Oxfam shop enters bridal market

An Oxfam shop is shedding its image of bric-a-brac and Val Doonican LPs by opening a bridal-wear section selling new £2,000 wedding dresses for as little as £450.

The charity's interest in brides on a budget is motivated less by romantic sentiment than cold business sense. The shop, the only charity store to remain in the revamped Birmingham city centre, needs £50,000 a year just to cover its costs and has been flooded twice in the past two years.

"It's been a real struggle and if things don't get better we might not be able to keep going," said shop manager Kate Strafford. "But we have already noticed an upturn since we started selling wedding dresses."

With the average cost of a wedding approaching £14,000, there is little doubt that demand for cheaper alternatives exists: what is less certain is whether the prospect of walking down the aisle in a little number from Oxfam may cause too many blushes for a bride.

"There is a stigma attached to Oxfam," admitted Strafford. "People don't realise we sell some tremendous new stock. I hope all these beautiful dresses encourage more people to come in."

The shop has around 40 new dresses for sale with fresh stock coming in every fortnight. It also sells bridesmaid dresses, men's formal wear and wedding accessories such as hats and cake stands.

All the gifts are secured by Oxfam volunteer Barbara Walmsley, 66, who writes to companies selling wedding products asking for their old stock.

The retired teacher ran a home wedding business that raised £65,000 for Oxfam over 11 years before she decided to limit her time to writing letters and leaving the trading side to the shops.

Walmsley is one of Britain's most dedicated volunteers: she also spends three days each year stood outside her local Sainsbury's supermarket in Cookham, Berkshire, with a label around her neck saying "Do not feed, I am fasting for Oxfam" to raise money.

"People spend thousands of pounds on their wedding dress and it's obscene compared with what people have to wear in developing countries," she said.

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