Another great performance in turbulent times

So it’s been another turbulent year.

It’s difficult to imagine a time in which there has been such an intense focus on one issue to the exclusion of all else. The preoccupation with Brexit and the media’s intense scrutiny over all things to do with government and parliament have made this an unusually unproductive time for lobbyists and influencers in any realm other than those. Quite rightly this has given people the impression that the government has been almost completely silent when it has come to consider anything that didn’t either work towards Brexit or positioning itself as the next party of government. 

However, all that is ended and we now have what we were promised many years ago: strong and stable government. It’s far too early to tell whether we can add the adjective “good” to that description but at least we can put many of the divisions, excessive backbiting and frankly disgraceful parliamentary behaviour behind us for the moment. One of the unintended consequences of this monomania has been to remove some of the focus and pressure from charities, who in 2018 experienced one of their toughest years in terms of reputation and public opinion – the media have found new targets and have moved on from the short-sighted and harmful moral panics that characterised much of 2018. They’ve found other fish to fry. Of course, this could create a danger of complacency, and as charities we must constantly be alert to reputational and governance issues to ensure that we deserve the trust that continues to be placed in us by the majority of the public. But at least now we seem to have been given the time and space to continue to get our house in order without having to deal with an unconscionable amount of short term crises.

One thing that has managed to raise its head above the political noise has been the issue of the future of the town centre and high streets. There have been numerous political, media-based and independent concerns raised about this very significant issue – one which is of course particularly germane to charity retail. The year has been one of tremendous difficulty for traditional commercial retailers who have battled the twin difficulties of high business rates and online competition with varying (mostly limited) degrees of success. We have seen enormous numbers of shop closures, retail jobs lost, and much gloom and doom predicted. But against this background have arisen some much more optimistic views about the high street and indeed a number of initiatives which if successful will certainly have a positive effect. Perhaps the most important word to use about high streets is “change” rather than “decline”.

This turbulent background has been one against which charity retail has once again been highly successful. Our growth rates in 2019 were unprecedented, and contrast dramatically with the negative performance of commercial retail. Why have we once again been able to buck the trend, even with declining footfall, and keep on providing charities with much needed unrestricted income and a great shop window for them to display their wares – in more ways than one?

Our view is that this is a really significant pointer towards a growing trend to shop more ethically and in a way which is more environmentally friendly. There seems to be a genuine zeitgeist developing – environmental initiatives such the backlash against plastic and a promotion of the environmental benefits of veganism are leading to a general sense that we have a limited time in which to effect enough change to save the planet and its inhabitants from extinction. This time last year hardly anyone had heard of Extinction Rebellion – as I write hardly anyone has not heard of it. If you ask a roomful of people what the most significant issue in society is today almost all of them – with the exception of some rather ill-informed but unfortunately prominent leaders will say unequivocally “climate change”.

Charity retail fits beautifully into this zeitgeist, and we hear more and more stories of people who are simply giving up buying new clothes and are instead focusing on the variety, quality and difference provided by shopping in an environment where profits are put into something good rather than the already extremely wealthy pockets of a few.

Our job in the Charity Retail Association is to provide the kind of support that charity retailers need to capitalise upon this zeitgeist and to be the best that they can be, offering opportunities for the general public to take advantage of the wonders that charity retail has to offer. Whether it is working on your behalf with the new government, ensuring it understands the importance of the high street agenda and the part charity retail plays in that ecology; whether it is giving you opportunities to meet other members through events, conference and specific initiatives; whether it is providing schemes such as the new Charity Retail Safeguarding scheme or the TRUST mechanism for licensing recyclers; whether it is providing you with up to the minute and otherwise unattainable research to guide your business decision making, Charity Retail Association is here to help. We would love to have your support in the next year which promises even more exciting and as interesting as 2019 has been, but with a wider range of issues to consider!

Robin Osterley
Chief Executive
Charity Retail Association