Our present time of austerity, cost cutting, penny pinching and pretty much universal unease about all things economic has brought many of us to think twice about the many products (useful or otherwise) we would have likely thought little of forking out for only twelve months ago.

With this in mind a question may well arise as to how can one can satisfy ones more materialistic consumerist shopping urges without breaking the bank, spending cash one can’t really properly justify and all round infuriate ones other half. Well charity shops help to provide an answer of sorts.
 
You may not have given it a moment’s consideration, but the UK is unique in the world for the huge volume of charity shops resident in every town and city. I challenge you to think of anywhere else in the world where there is such a diversity of high street retailers which sell, for the most part, good quality second-hand items combining the added bonus that the money spent goes direct to those less fortunate and in real need.

In fact charity shops are such a unique curiosity and attribute to this nation some tourists to the UK seek out these retailers as part of their cultural tour of this land. By way of illustration – the tourist board of Scotland has produced a free map to Edinburgh specifically detailing the rich pickings on offer by way of charity outlets – approximately one hundred and four charity retailers at last count
 
Charity shop guides are, perhaps amazingly, also to be viewed on some British hotel websites in their ‘What to do and where to go in the UK sections’ and also seen on other websites targeted towards visitors to Britain including some overseas travel websites .
 
OK you might be thinking, ‘Tourists visit charity shops in this country because they are a nothing more than a curious novelty to overseas visitors’, and to some degree you will be right in thinking this. But if it can be said that a country can be judged to some fair degree by the places it’s tourists visit, then there surely must be a bit more to it than the simple unfamiliarity factor of these shops, there has to be something in these places that a cross section of people from all nations visiting these shores want to witness. Which brings me therefore to how charity shops can be genuinely and especially useful to the residents of this nation in this dire economic climate.
 
For many the reputation of charity shops as being not much more than grotty emporiums full of the likes of mothball-infused torn three piece suits, clapped out Sunday shoes and broken Chinese alarm clocks, this think is in the main an unfair stereotypical viewpoint.

It can be said that this perception has done much to stop much of the British public from entering these shops in the first place. Although all the aforementioned items might well be found in your local charity store, the truth is that these places are treasure troves of the unexpected. The following are all items I have bought in the past year or so, all I hasten to add at incredibly reasonable prices and all as near to as makes no difference to ‘as new’ condition.  

* Ikea Candle sticks
* Dark birch Habitat 60 by 80 cm picture frames
* Attractive ethnic thai hardwood box
* John Lewis wooden side table
* Karrimor professional hiking rucksack
* VHS Sopranos series 1 and 2 boxsets
* Apple Mac computer mouse
* Pentax digital SLR camera accessory
* bone china crockery mug
* Twin pack of new Phillips energy saving light bulbs
* Sony Erricson mobile telephone charger
* Four Rolling Stones CDs
* Hardback Private Eye Annuals 1999 through to 2003

It might well be case that you lead too busy a life to spend your time rummaging through baskets, shelves and racks full of items which clearly aren’t of any use to you, in an attempt to get to hopefully, just maybe, to something that might. In fact, to me this is part of the fun of the whole charity shop experience, but then I’m the first to admit to being something of a charity shopping fanatic. Someone who incidentally has been known to catch an earlier train than required to Sherbourne on a Sunday morning, just so to allow myself a good solid hour to sample the town’s charity shops before I had to be at lunch with my sister-in-law’s parents.

So for those of you without the time or inclination but curious none the less to see what these shops have to offer, help is at readily at hand, or at least is at the click of your computer mouse. Charities such as shop Oxfam and Cancer Research have websites which sell items from their charity shops nationwide. Items are searchable online, photographs of the items are available for you to view, payments are made by credit / debit card and the items are then posted to you direct from the shops. In addition eBay
also has a section on their website dedicated specifically to UK charities allowing them to sell their items.

In summary, I hope that in some small way I have whetted your appetite to you paying a visit to your local charity shop, perhaps whilst carrying out the Saturday morning food shop in your local town or during those times when you are waiting to meet a friend on the high street and they have just rung to tell you that they will be half an hour late. In these sort of moments

I hope you will pop into your local charity shop have a browse and even if there isn’t anything you want this time, at least you will have hopefully avoided the temptations of the shiny Hi-fi store, the women’s accessory shop or indeed the overpriced American coffee chain stackarama. But if with a bit of luck there is something you have found, then you can allow yourself to be little bit smug and really very content to have quenched your needy thirst for goods, and what is more as a true bonus, donated to a charity in a shop – a perfect example of a much underrated, somewhat maligned and seldom celebrated British institution.

  • Anya Conway

    I’ve been doing this for years; I especially source out of print books and vintage/designer clothing from charity shops.