No evidence that charity shops cause high-street decline, says report

Research by the think tank Demos for the Charity Retail Association says high streets would be even worse without charity retailers

There is no evidence to suggest that the growth of charity shops is causing or facilitating the decline of the UK’s high streets, according to the findings of research published today by the think tank Demos.

The report, called Giving Something Back: The Value of Charity Shops, commissioned by the Charity Retail Association, looks at the value of charity retail shops beyond fundraising for parent charities.

It is based on a survey of 2,200 members of the public, and 300 charity shop managers and volunteers. The researchers also held focus groups with experts from the charity and retail sectors, town planners and economists, and members of the public in London and Rochdale.

The report says that rising online sales and the growth of out-of-town retail centres were having an adverse effect on high streets before the economic downturn.

"The state of Britain’s high streets would be even worse if it were not for the presence of charity shops," it says.

Researchers carried out analysis of the available data and found that charity shops do not increase rents for other shops and do not prevent small and medium-sized businesses from opening on the high street. Charity shops help maintain footfall on struggling high shops and fill empty shops, the report says.

It outlines the benefits of charity shops, including their positive impact on the environment through recycling, and their social value in providing volunteering and employment opportunities.

Examples of charities using their shops to provide services are also highlighted, including the homelessness charity Shelter’s recent scheme to train volunteers to provide housing advice in its stores.

The report also recommends that charity shops should advertise the outcomes of their fundraising efforts, for example displaying on shop fronts the amounts raised and what they means for the charity’s beneficiaries. This is something already done by the British Heart Foundation.

The report also recommends that the CRA works with partners to develop a toolkit that charity retailers could use to demonstrate and quantify their individual social value.

"Charity shops’ greatest strength lies in their strong link with local communities, which is forged through a large, and overwhelmingly local, pool of staff and volunteers," it says.

"As a result of their unique place in the community, charity shops can bring a new and powerful voice to the regeneration of Britain’s high streets."

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