Charity shops have become a big industry, with more than 10,000 across the UK. They raise £289m a year, employ more than 17,000 people and have a volunteer workforce of more than 213,000. The British Heart Foundation – Britain’s biggest charity retailer – has more outlets than WH Smith.
But when it comes to this vital volunteer army, UK’s charity shops are facing something of a crisis.
Stricter rules for jobseekers and people delaying retirement have contributed to a volunteer shortage crisis forcing many charity shops to close their doors as their traditional pool of workers is reduced.
Wrexham-based Nightingale House Hospice relies on the help of more than 500 volunteers across their charity work with their 10 shops providing the catalyst for their successful fundraising.
“We usually get a lot of volunteers looking for jobs but now, with how Jobseeker’s Allowance works, people are having to apply for a certain number of jobs or having to go on courses, and they’re not having the time to volunteer,” said John Donnelly, retail development manager at Nightingale House.
“We also have people who are retired or working part-time and coming here on their day off. But just now, because of the economy, fewer people are able to work part time.
“People are also tending to work past retirement age, so we’re getting fewer of them and are usual source is drying up.”
With this in mind I thought it was time to roll up my sleeves, lend a hand and see what volunteering in one of Nightingale’s shops entailed and talk to those dedicated volunteers about the benefits of getting involved.
After arriving at the landmark shop adjacent to the Racecourse Ground on Mold Road, I was put through a stringent hour-long health and safety lesson where I learnt how to lift and handle the dozens of items that arrive in the shop on a daily basis.
The atmosphere among the volunteers was friendly and after a hard-earned cup of tea I was given the task of sorting through a large pile of DVDs and pricing them up at £1 a pop before moving on to a large pile of clothes where I instantly spotted a nice wax raincoat which is now hanging up in my hallway.
Later we move on to Nightingale House’s furniture showroom on Rhosnesni Lane where the charity receive and sell larger items and offer a free collection service for suitable donations of furniture.
While carrying a number of boxes into the shop I spoke to volunteer Lee Gargan who has been working at the shop since last summer.
“I started in May 2016,” said the 49-year-old from Wrexham.
“It was something I’d never thought of before but the job centre suggested it because I was unemployed and had a gap on my CV.
“I’ve been unemployed for more than three years and worked on transport planning before so retail was something different for me but they said it looked good for potential employers.
“I was a bit nervous at first but you get used to it and I really enjoy it now. It’s helped my confidence and has kept me active and out of the house for two days a week.
“I’ve had a few interviews and although nothing came of them they all mentioned the volunteering and seemed impressed.”
According to a 2013 report by the think tank Demos, charity shops boost local business, combat unemployment and even help tackle social isolation, with the report refuting perceptions that shops embody the decline of high streets.
The research also found charity shops help combat unemployment, with more than 80 per cent of volunteers saying they were using their shifts to gain retail experience as a path to paid employment.
The report recommends that job centres should promote volunteering in charity shops to more jobseekers.
Some 91 per cent of volunteers cited socialising and meeting new people as a benefit of volunteering, and 61 per cent felt their volunteering led to improved physical and mental health.
As I greeted members of the public and helped them lift items out of their car before pricing up piles CDs I couldn’t help but agree the good feeling was addictive.
“It is well documented that volunteering helps to boost happiness, health and general wellbeing,” said Angela Rogers, marketing and communications manager at Nightingale House hospice.
“A study into the effects of volunteering on a large group of adults by the London School of Economics shows the more people volunteer, the happier they become.
“The investigations revealed that those who volunteered monthly were seven per cent more likely to be ‘very happy’ than those who did no volunteering.
“Of course, volunteers at Nightingale House already know this and if you are looking to find someone to take help organise events or become a ‘superhero’ in one of our shops, you’ll want to speak to the Nightingale House volunteers.”
Angela and the team are now preparing to launch a new volunteering recruitment plan with much of the focus on the charity’s retail outlets.
“With Nightingale House, you’ll get something very different from the standard volunteering experience,” she added.
“You’ll get the opportunity of using your skills, hobbies and abilities to have a long-lasting impact on other people’s lives.
“You’ll bring inspiration, energy and motivation to help us make a difference and you’ll learn a lot on your journey.
“Even the smallest volunteering act makes our hospice strong and resilient and there is, quite literally, a job for everyone.”
If you would like to volunteer with Nightingale House hospice, go to www.nightingalehouse.co.uk or call 01978 314292
See full story in the Leader