As people recover from the festive period and clear out the unwanted presents for the year ahead, Nottingham’s community of charity shops has to find a new home for all those celebrity autobiographies, musical ties and sock sets (and the occasional hula hoop). Luke Watson fumbles through the jumble.
“They are pouring in through the door as we speak. This morning we had between fifteen and twenty bags outside the door,” says Dave Perkins, assistant manager of Cancer Research UK in Wilford.
He says the difference over the festive period is ‘staggering’.
The shop sees an increase in donations of around 50 per cent at Christmas – and Dave has to use his contacts all over the network of other local charity shops to find space for all of it.
“People are getting rid of old gifts to make room for new ones. Recently a man came in with 70 dresses, and as many tops and trousers,” he added.
“Hula hoops and some horses’ heads – not real ones, I must add – are the most unusual things we’ve had so far.”
The Charity Retail Association estimates there are around 11,200 charity shops in the UK and Northern Ireland, raising more than £270 million in total every year.
Although many also closed last year, it comes after a huge spike in the number of charity shops opening in 2013, in which 142 new shops were opened nationally.
So while the industry is perhaps as healthy as ever in terms of outlets, the post-Christmas period is also helping it to thrive with high numbers of donations.
Serena Parsons, manager of the Salvation Army branch on Bracebridge Drive, Bilborough, said: “We get around 100 bags a month, but it can be double or triple that in January.”
And Michelle Watton, manager of the Oxfam Shop on Mansfield Road, Sherwood, said: “We get at least 30 to 40 per cent more donations over this period. We don’t have enough volunteers to keep up with the donations at times.”
Back at the Wilford Cancer Research UK branch the number of donations at is ‘at least double,’ says Dave – more than the shop has the room for.
“More of our donations go to other shops because we simply can’t hold them all.”
Bobbie, who did not want to give her last name, manages the Sue Ryder Sherwood store.
She said: “Shops around here might pass donations around to others, if they can’t take them for any reason.”
In an age when more mass retail is moving online, there is even an argument that some new charity shops are providing a lifeline for town centres, rather than being a sign of decline. Another report published last year by policy group Demos showed two thirds of managers believe their premises would still be vacant without the shop being there.
Bobbie believes as well as providing commercial survival, shops can also help develop community spirit.
She added: “Today, people can easily make money from selling items for themselves. Doing this job is eye-opening and really humbling in the kindness that you see.
“It seems like, since the recession, people have reassessed the value of things.”
Margaret, a retiree from Nottingham who was shopping in the Lister Gate Cancer Research shop, said: “I’m a regular shopper and donate to Cancer Research, but I come in to all the shops in the centre whenever I’m in town. I don’t agree with this ‘throw away’ society.”
Cath, a housewife from West Bridgford, who was browsing in Barnardos on Angel Row in Nottingham, said: “I like that the money goes straight to charity. I’m all for a bargain, but I’d always come to a charity shop rather than a car boot sale. I’ve also got a loft full of stuff that needs to be sorted out.”
Manager of the Salvation Army store on St James’s Street, Juenever Smith, said: “We used to get almost no donations, but that has changed. We get a lot more people bringing the little things, that you can easily put in a locker or drawer and bring on your lunch break.”
The branch recently received a £120 stylus drawing tablet bought specifically to donate, and the Bilborough shop has had Leapfrog pads and brand new iPods in the past.
In Wilford, Dave offers a possible explanation for the increase in donations.
“It could be down to the disposable culture. People don’t tend to give TLC to anything any more. They’d rather donate something than maintain it.”
The Demos report also shows 74 per cent of people have donated to charity shops in the past 12 months, and 61 per cent have purchased at least one item from a charity shop over that same period – an increase since the previous report in 2013.
About six people in ten donate or purchase up to five times a year, and one in 20 use charity shops more than 20 times a year.
There are often finds to be had, for those who do so.
Carol Ford, a volunteer at the Cancer Research UK store on Friar Lane, said: “We had a ladies’ black coat a couple of days ago, that we listed at £50. We get a lot of Paul Smith things in as well.”
Jenny Brown, a vintage clothing trader and avid fan of charity shops, who visits the Lister Gate shop, said: “I come in looking for a cheeky bargain, and older stuff. I haven’t bought a new item of clothing for five years. You can get a whole outfit for 30 quid.”