... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Being charitable

Yesterday we went to Eastbourne, because we thought the charity shops might be worth a look. Charity Shop Tourism hasn't made it to Sussex yet, so perhaps I could start filling in the gaps. Newhaven for example, throws up a few occasional treasures, but then I do do the rounds (Searchlight (that's a local one), PDSA and Scope) once or twice a week. Lewes is wonderful; occasionally dear but worth it. I have paid £7.50 each for two Monsoon skirts, but been pleased with them, and the other week I got a pair of Maiko Dawson (no, I'd never heard of her either, but anyone who doesn't even list prices on their website must be good) shoes. Brighton is stupidly expensive. Eastbourne was disappointing.

There are lots of shops, but the stock was generally poor, and I wonder whether this is because of the growing habit of charity shops to try to be clever and cream off the best stuff to auction or sell in special shops in more affluent areas. We ended up going in at least half a dozen shops and buying absolutely nothing - which must be a record.

Then this morning, I read this article in the Observer magazine. I would write in, but they don't have a letters page; or leave a comment online, but it doesn't seem to have the facility, so I will leave my comment here (what else are blogs for).

I was particularly taken by the juxtaposition of these two statements (my italics):

"The idea is to make them bright and vibrant and to remove the stigma of charity-shop shopping"


"We tend to think we'll auction all of those clothes that people feel are a bit too good for the charity shop"

Stigma, what stigma, eh.

Now, I understand that the purpose of charity shops is to make money for their cause. But unless you are selling a premium product (and 99.99% of second-hand clothes do not come into that category) retailers for hundreds of years have understood that the most profitable way to do that is to pile it high and sell it cheap. Trying to cream off the best stuff is a waste of time (yes, even volunteers' time) and money, and if it becomes widespread charity shops will lose customers. It's the thought of getting a prize, that extra special bargain, that brings us through the doors week after week - but once we're in, we usually tend to buy something that catches our eye. Once all there is on the rails is Primark stuff priced at more than it originally cost (which happens often), then there will be no point in going at all.


  1. This is just the sort of thing that has killed off jumble sales, letting in traders before opening time and trying to be clever by sorting out the 'prizes' to put on ebay etc. The week long All Saints Jumble in Lewes was killed off by precisely this - they even sent stuff to local auction rooms. It soon got round that there was only rubbish for sale at high prices and it no longer happens.


  2. Sarah
    If you want a charity shop with a difference check out BDF in Cannock next time you are passing (Birth Defects Foundation). Theres is a warehouse crammed full of real seconds. Recent purchases: £200 leather jacket for £15. Woollen great coat (posh) £17 (M&S £120) Warm winter coat (M&S) £15 - normally £80. Charles Trewitt shirts £2.50 (normally £25 each).
    But watch out - they are seconds and the snags are not always obvious - like shirt sleeves which are four inches too short!
    Well worth a £10 annual membership fee.
    I hate shopping but bargains like this make it a joy - almost.
    Search BDF.

  3. Anothet thing I've just thought of. All the goods - regardless of what they originally may have cost - have been donated for nothing. Charity shops used to be a way for people on low incomes to have a chance of owning the sort of quality stuff that would otherwise not be available to them. This was certainly how I saw it when I started using them 20-odd years ago. That in itself is surely a worthy aim. It's hard not to use the word 'greedy' especially when so many charities spend so much on administrative costs and chief executives' (and 'heads of trading') salaries.

  4. Spot on posting as ever Sarah,we seem to agree on so many things that I will have to check Halsall carefully for signs of morphing into a big Woolwich!
    The change in style of charity shops has made me very likely to leave with no purchase.The overpriced primark tat annoys me no end.The greed factor is off putting.I no longer donate much stuff either and then only to a couple of favourite shops.