Volunteering at charity shops plays a vital role in helping unemployed people gain paid employment and has a positive effect on local communities and high streets, according to new research from the think tank Demos.
The research, which is based partly on a survey of 650 charity shop managers and volunteers carried out in 2016 and 2017, follows similar research released in 2013. Researchers this time found that two-thirds of charity shop volunteers felt their role had improved their employment prospects.
Seventy-five per cent of the volunteers surveyed said they gained new skills, and 73 per cent said volunteering at charity shops had helped their self-esteem and confidence.
Most charity shop managers said they believed charity shops were positive additions to high streets, with about two-thirds saying their premises would otherwise be left empty if the charity shop did not exist.
Demos also found that charity shops saved local councils £27m between 2015 and 2016 by diverting clothes and other goods from landfill.
A separate poll of 2,000 members of the public found a generational divide on whether charity shops were positive for high streets, with younger people more likely to see charity shops as cost-effective, environmentally friendly and trendy.
In contrast, many older people said they thought that the appearance of charity shops was a sign of an unhealthy high street.
According to the research, three-quarters of charity shop managers were satisfied in their roles, although 55 per cent found the job either stressful or very stressful.
Volunteers were generally motivated to help out at charity shops in order to contribute to the specific charity, charity in general or to their communities, the research found.
Robin Osterley, chief executive of the Charity Retail Association, said: "From environmental benefit and getting people back into work to improving the confidence and wellbeing of the more vulnerable members of our society, charity shops continue to give far-reaching benefits to their local communities.
"In addition, this report makes it clear that a volunteering revolution would not only benefit the sector but would also help communities all over the country."
The report’s author, Peter Harrison-Evans, said that the charity shop sector faced an "image problem", despite its positive impact on communities and volunteers.
"Exactly half of those polled wanted to see fewer charity shops on the high street," he said.
"That said, Demos finds that this view is strongly mediated by the use of charity shops and demographic factors, with younger people far more likely to see them as valuable assets."