We are proud to work alongside a good many business and high streets organisations across the UK. One group we have built a particularly fruitful relationship with is Scotland’s Towns Partnership.
Here, their Chief Officer, Phil Prentice blogs on the impact of charity retail on Scotland’s high streets.
Our high streets are facing unprecedented challenge. On top of the well documented and almost apocalyptic retail closures, recent years have also seen a host of Council facilities, Police and Fire Stations, museums and Libraries all shutting down.
There have been a few successes amongst the gloom – small discounters, the return of independents, leisure and cafe culture.
However, at the time of greatest need it was the Charity Retail sector which stepped up to the plate. Whilst their main purpose is to generate funding for specific causes – Heart, Dementia, Cancer, Poverty etc (all good stuff), the secondary benefits from having a physic, economic and social presence in our town centres was greatly welcomed. With 900 shops, 1500 staff and 17,500 volunteering, the sheer economic impact of the industry is impressive and could easily stand up to mainstream retail.
The sector itself is diverse and does a number of key things – first of all it filled a lot of that vacant and derelict space. It helped light the place up and create activity and interest, it created footfall and vibrancy and gave people reasons to come into town. Then there was the more local social purpose, as austerity started to bite folks has less money which had to stretch further. The Charity Shop offered something different, something more affordable. It also stopped us throwing things away, things that others could make good use of. It created some employment and offered a lot of displaced or vulnerable people a route back into mainstream employment via volunteering. It offered a safe and trusted space to meet and greet.
As with any industry there are issues – proliferation, perception of unfair competition, CEO salaries, as well as some wider systemic issues which the industry is now acting quickly to address. However it’s important we continue to support the sector, the fundamentals are still solid.
Charity Retail continues to evolve; we see more boutiques and niche shops, retro is on the up as is tailoring product to match the local demographic is ensuring more resilience and success. This is welcome, as high streets continue to morph towards their next iteration, I believe that the Charity Shop will remain as a valuable anchor, and a trusted friend.