To give a bit of background, I used to be the manager of one of the charity shops in Sale. My first experience of Age UK was before my old shop opened when me and some of the volunteers went to have a nosy around our soon-to-be competitors. I thought 'this shop is tiny and it's a shame everything is squished'. Over the ten months I was in charge at the shop, I built up relationships with the other shop managers in the area (swapping money when the banks were closed, helping each other bring donations in etc) and of all the shops on Sale high street, I by far had the best relationship with the staff and volunteers in Age UK.
Since leaving the charity sector at the end of 2013, I'd say I still call into Age UK at least once a week - sometimes it's a lot more often. I donate all my clothes there and my only Gift Aid membership is with them and that's not at all because I believe their cause is the greatest (I have no idea how they help older people) - it's because they've remained fair with prices and because the people in there are a joy to talk to.
I shouldn't've judged the book by its cover - the shop may be small and short on floor space but the stock is good and the people are kind and interested in their customers. That's rare and it should count for something.
I'm devastated the shop is to close. Part of my devastation is based on my friendship with the staff and I'm sad that they have to find new jobs after putting so much of their time and energy into the shop. It breaks my heart that a shop that has been part of the community for so long will soon cease to exist.
The big players in the charity sector do a lot of harm to the smaller shops - they simply can't compete with rental prices for better premises, more eye-catching advertising, paying their Sales Assistants in some cases (anyone who's from or been to Sale will know which charity I'm referring to!).
But to me, that's forgetting what charity really is. These shops started as something for the community and that's been lost. It's not charitable to force smaller shops out of business. It's not charitable that those staff members lose their livelihood. Each of these charities started with someone who had an idea about making life better for other people - be they old people or people with disabilities or people with life threatening diseases. That's been clouded by a drive to make more and more profit which at the end of the day, mainly goes towards paying the six-figure salaries of those at the top.
I had a message on Instagram earlier from a girl called Cherelle saying she had a lot of clothes to donate. She asked me which charity she thought I should donate it to as she's 'all for charity but it seems some charity shops aren't'. She's absolutely right and I hope more people give that some thought.
Why do most people shop in charity shops? Because they want something nice for cheap. It's just a convenient by-product that the money might go to helping someone.
There's nothing wrong with wanting a bargain - all I hope to get across is don't dismiss a shop because it doesn't have gleaming white floors or attractive shop fittings or it's a local charity and you haven't heard of them before because they don't have TV adverts. They need your support all the more because of it and I can almost guarantee they'll appreciate that donation or that purchase all the more.
Age UK will close at the end of February and the staff might walk away with no job to go to after dedicating years of their life to raising money to help others. For me, charity shops make UK high streets what they are. Volunteering in these shops changes the lives of thousands of people each year. I don't want to look around in a few years time to find the big charities are all that remain.