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How charity shops embrace people, planet and profit

‘You are giving your money back into the community when you shop in a charity shop’

Charity shops across Ireland have been the grateful recipients of the proceeds of many people’s decluttering during the Covid-19 pandemic. And although they remained closed during lockdowns, many of them have since reopened with freshened up interiors and new stocks of clothing, shoes, books, CDs, DVDs, vinyl, crockery and other household items.

Many charity shops are also witnessing new clientele since they reopened.

“The pandemic made people think more about where they consume and what they consume. They became more aware of sustainability and the supply chain so we are seeing people shopping in charity shops now who wouldn’t have before the pandemic,” says Linda Ward, secretary of the Irish Charity Shops Association (ICSA) and board member of the Community Reuse Network of Ireland. The ICSA (icsa.ie) has more than 40 members which represent 470 shops throughout Ireland.

As regular customers of charity shops will know, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure and Ward says the level of donations during Covid-19 has been “phenomenal”. With this in mind, the ICSA will launch its Re-Imagine Christmas campaign on December 8th, encouraging people to seek out and buy Christmas presents in their local charity shops.

“It’s about encouraging people to be conscious consumers and think about buying Christmas presents in charity shops instead of buying new. Re-use extends the life of a product or garment which is the best way to reduce its carbon footprint,” says Ward.

Survey

The ICSA does a benchmarking survey each year, which looks at the triple bottom-line – people, planet and profit – impact of charity shops. In 2020, the total turnover in the Irish charity shop sector was €36,500 down from €70,000 in 2019. The social value (combined worth of employees, trainees and volunteers) was €42 million for 2020 and the environmental value was calculated as 106,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions saved from the activities of charity shops.

“Or another way of looking at it is that the activities of charity shops meant 14,775 tonnes were diverted from the waste streams which is the equivalent to the weight of the entire Dublin Bus fleet,” explains Ward.

The charity shops run by the children’s charity Barnardos are members of the ICSA and Colette Miller, the retail operations and development manager believes that once people start shopping in charity shops, they keep coming back. “There is a great appetite for charity shops now and people are realising that you are giving your money back into the community when you shop in a charity shop. There is a greater awareness of that since Covid,” she says.

Expanding on how the three pillars of people, planet, profit operates in Barnardos, she explains: “In terms of profit, our aim is to extract the maximum value of everything that we get in but there are lots of bargains. We also get a lot of end of lines of clothes, gift sets, footwear and handbags from mainstream retailers which are ideal gifts.

“We seasonalise our products in that we sell winter wear in winter and summer wear in summer. Regulars will be aware of our ‘change-over sales’ when we have queues out the door.” At this time of the year, the Barnardos shops in Dalkey, Dún Laoghaire, Clondalkin, Kilbarrack, Cork, Wexford and Carlow have a wide range of warm winter clothes and good quality footwear.

Barnardos also runs a certified training programme for long term unemployed people through the community employment scheme. “Our shops are a warm environment for people to come and work in to build up their confidence and learn how to deal with the public,” says Miller. Each shop has a salaried manager and assistant manager, three people on training programmes and five or six volunteers.

“The majority of our reliable consistent volunteers are older retired people who want to get out and do stuff so we have great staff diversity. I’ve seen people change their views through working with us and I’ve seen many friendships formed,” says Miller.

And in terms of the planet pillar, Barnardos encourages customers to bring all their unwanted clothing and household items to the shops to sort. “We’re happy to sort and grade as appropriate. The majority of items are suitable for sale and anything that isn’t we sent to textile companies which use them for flocking for car seats and stuffing for couches,” explains Miller.