Charity shopping

Charity shops reopening: Six things you need to know, including how to donate & shop safely

Hands up if you've had a clear-out since lockdown began – or maybe I should say hands up if you haven't (it might be a smaller number). There's some good news if you're itching to drop off bags of unwanted items at your local charity shop, as they should soon be accepting donations again.

As you might expect, there'll be a number of extra measures in place to protect shoppers and volunteers, and to avoid an overwhelming surge in donations. To help you donate items and shop as safely as you can, we've been in touch with some of the UK's biggest charity shop chains and we've six need-to-knows below. You should also check out MSE Jenny's charity shopping bargain-hunting tricks before you go.

1. Not all charity shops are reopening straightaway

While 'non-essential' shopping rules were relaxed as of Monday 15 June, not all shops are reopening straightaway. So please check with the shops in your area to make sure they'll be open before you pay 'em a visit. Charities are generally taking a staggered approach to reopening their shops.

Age UK is opening a few stores between Monday 15 June and Monday 22 June for donations only, while British Heart Foundation and Oxfam are opening a few stores in England to shoppers this week, with the aim of having most up and running by the end of July. Though shops in Scotland and Wales will remain closed for now.

Cancer Research will be opening stores from Monday 29 June, but again you'll have to keep an eye out for local shops' reopening dates and hours as these will vary from place to place.

Marie Curie and Scope have begun a phased reopening, and while Sue Ryder will start reopening a number of shops from Monday 22 June, it's warned it could be July or August before they're all open again.

2. New safety measures are being put in place

It should come as no surprise that all the charities we've spoken to are putting new measures in place upon reopening to protect staff and customers. 

Depending on the size of shop and the equipment available, these may include hand sanitiser stations as well as gloves and face coverings for staff. Contactless card payments will be encouraged where possible.

Some shops will also have floor markings to help you maintain social distancing, and Scope told us its shops will initially be 'one customer only'.

3. There are no new restrictions on what you can donate

With so many homes decluttered during lockdown you might think there'd be a limit on how much you can donate. But no, in fact all the charities we spoke to said they're happy to accept donations as usual.

Of course, if your local shop's getting overwhelmed it might suggest you hold on to items and donate them at a later date instead. Though Age UK, Marie Curie and Scope all told us they'll be expanding capacity to hold surplus stock and will move goods between different stores where necessary.

A quick checklist for donating to charity shops:

Clean items before donating. Wherever possible, put clothes and textiles through the washing machine and wipe down solid surfaces. This will help shops process them more quickly.

Try to donate quality items. Of course, charities are grateful to receive all donations, but do ask yourself "Will someone pay money for this?", and if not, maybe it should be recycled instead. 

Call ahead when you're ready to donate. It's helpful to shop staff if you phone them up to check when is the best time for you to drop off your items, and of course to make sure they're actually open.

Stagger your donations rather than bringing in everything at once. If you can hang on to some of your items until after the initial rush, it might help prevent the shop from becoming overwhelmed.

Remember to add 'Gift Aid'. Charities can claim 25% extra on the sale of your donations. Ask about it in the shop when donating items (you must be a UK taxpayer and will need to give some details).

4. All donations will be sanitised before going on sale

Anything you drop off will be held for a minimum of 72 hours before it's processed for sale. Clothing will be steamed, while books, games and bric-a-brac will be wiped down before hitting the shelves.

The same procedure will apply to items returned by customers, so don't worry if you need to return something (particularly as changing rooms will be closed).

5. You may be able to have a donation collected if you're shielding

Some charities including the British Heart Foundation are putting procedures in place to help you donate remotely, which may be useful if you're stuck at home because you're shielding.

Of course, it will help the shop if you can take donations in yourself – but for those who are unable to, some charities will be operating a postal donation service. You may be able to arrange collection from your home (depending on the availability of drivers in your area), for British Heart Foundation's furniture stores for instance.

Most shops will be doing what they can to help customers who may not be able to stand outside in a queue. If you think you'll need help, get in touch with the shop ahead of your visit just to be on the safe side.

6. Charity shops are looking for volunteers – can you help?

If you can spare some time and aren't currently shielding at home, you might want to see if your local charity shop is looking for extra volunteers. Even small amounts of time can be a big help.

Marie Curie, for example, told us it always welcomes volunteers, while Oxfam said it currently needs volunteers to help get shops back to normal business over the summer. Just look online for opportunities listed on the websites of charities with a shop in your area. You may even be able to apply while shops are still closed.

Scope told us many of its current volunteers are disabled or retired, so may have been advised to shield. So it's welcoming volunteers with open arms – it reckons all you need is a comfy pair of shoes!

We must say a huge thank you to Age UK, British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, Marie Curie, Oxfam, Scope and Sue Ryder for all their help putting this blog together. THANK YOU!