Charity shops fear 'double whammy' of high donations and reduced staff, umbrella body warns

The chief executive of the Charity Retail Association says shops that have been shuttered for weeks might face a 'deluge' of donations when they reopen for business

Charity shops could be hit by the “double whammy” of a high number of donations and reduced workforce as they begin to reopen, the chief executive of the Charity Retail Association has warned.

But Robin Osterley told Third Sector there was a “real hunger” among staff and volunteers to open their doors after the government announced non-essential shops could reopen from 15 June.

He said most of the CRA’s members would adopt a phased approach to reopening and would be opening a few shops at a time, ensuring they could implement safety measures such as social distancing and a 72-hour quarantine period for donated items. 

Most shops could be open by the end of July, he said, but he emphasised that was “just a guess”.

But Osterley added: “When the shops do reopen, they’re going to be faced with a double whammy of a very large number of donations for which they will be incredibly grateful, but a somewhat reduced workforce with which to process them.”

The vast majority of charity shop staff have been furloughed under the government’s job-retention scheme. Osterley said both they and volunteers had reported as being keen to return.

But he said there was likely to be a large number of volunteers who were still considered vulnerable to coronavirus and needed to be shielded.

Many might also have issues accessing the shops without public transport and with social distancing in place, he said, and it might not be feasible to have the usual number of staff and volunteers in shops at the same time.

Shops would potentially also face “a deluge” of stock donations, including the usual number of donations charities would have expected to receive during the three months shops have been closed, as well as extra donations generated by people who had spent the time at home clearing out unwanted items, Osterley warned. 

He added it would be crucial that any new items coming into stores were isolated for 72 hours before being handled by staff or put on sale. 

He urged the public to consider the value of their potential donations. 

“We obviously don’t want to sound ungrateful, but rather than just bringing in any old thing, do think about the things charity shops will find most useful to sell," he said. 

Osterley added that people should contact a shop before bringing donations in, because many shops would be implementing strict protocols for processing donations, such as allocating certain hours or days of the week to receiving and sorting goods, and certain hours or days to selling them. 

Many charities struggled with people leaving unwanted items outside closed charity shop doors during the lockdown, which were quickly ruined or became a safety hazard, said Osterley, reiterating calls for people not to drop off goods if shops were closed.

But he said: “We are really excited about the opportunity to reopen and to start providing much-needed income for the shops’ parent charities. 

“Charities whose income has dropped off a cliff during the crisis will be able to generate cash. You can’t very easily restart the London Marathon or whatever it is you do to raise funds, but you can get cash in virtually the same day the shop opens.”

He said it was “desperately important” for shops to reopen, but to do so in an orderly fashion that kept people safe. 

“I’m really proud of the charity retail sector for the way it has handled it,” he said. “It's going to be a challenge, but not one they won’t be able to surmount, because they are a very creative lot.”

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