Charity shops are more popular than ever before. More people are buying from charity shops and the local demand for second hand items continues to increase.
They raised £220 million in the last financial year for a huge range of charitable causes, including local hospices and other community services. And they are doing this by also generating 15,500 jobs and nearly 163,000 volunteering and training opportunities in England alone, often for those furthest from the workplace. Given that charity shops reuse and recycle over 363,000 tonnes of clothing each year, this is also a significant contribution to the green economy.
However, the sector has one big problem: generating enough second-hand stock to sell. As the value of second hand textiles increases in the international markets, so do the number of commercial competitors who sell clothing abroad for profit.
And as budgets come under increasing pressure, councils are also looking to raise money from textile collections. Increasingly local authorities are tendering out textile banks services either in consortium or individually. Others are partnering with their waste management contractors to get a share of their income. The London Borough of Bromley, for example, evicted Scope from their sites earlier this year, costing the disability charity £360,000 a year. We are likely to see more of these kinds of decisions as budgets continue to be squeezed over the coming years.
With around 350,000 tonnes of textiles going to landfill each year, costing local authorities over £22m on landfill tax, the fact that the charity sector is desperate for stock to sell in their shops seems like a missed opportunity for both parties. Charity retailers can help by re-using items locally, raising money for a good cause, and saving councils’ money at the same time by reducing landfill and increasing recycling rates.
The new Social Value Act adds another imperative, when from January 2013 public bodies in England and Wales will be required to consider how the services they commission might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area. By working with charity shops local authorities can tick all three boxes.
There are examples of how local authorities are working with charities to reduce their landfill cost; for example, Merseyside’s Textile Forum, set up with local charities. But, as a sector we need to be better at presenting ourselves as a business partner. We know we are able to work to the same standards as any commercial company as long term partnerships such as Oxfam and Mark & Spencer or Cancer Research UK and TK Maxx can prove. But the sector needs to be better at communicating this to other potential partners and understanding their needs.
In addition to these well know partnerships, there are numerous smaller ones, including working with universities for end-of-term clearances, partnering with local authorities to collect textiles either through banks or kerbside collections, or joining up with local businesses for end of line donations. All of this shows how innovative and flexible charity retailers can be to meet the needs of their partners.
The Charity Retail Association represents nearly 80% of the charity shops in the UK, from large national charities to small local charities with just one shop. We can facilitate conversations between local authorities and charities and help local authorities explore new ways of delivering services by working with charity shops. We can also share experiences of what has worked and has not worked on other parts of the country.
Cristina Osoro Cangas
Senior Research and Policy Analyst
Charity Retail Association