Best of British: Charity Shops

BY Fiona Hicks

1st Jan 2015 Travel

Best of British: Charity Shops

With boutique interiors and designer labels, donating to charity has never been so luxurious… Snap up a bargain (or several) and these stylish stores

Mary’s Living & Giving Shop, Edinburgh


Queen of retail Mary Portas set up the first of her charitable boutiques in 2009. Since then, this trendy extension of Save the Children has expanded to an impressive 18 outlets in London, and one—which is arguably the best—in Edinburgh.

Located in fashionable Raeburn Place, the retro-styled shop counts upmarket delis, swish jewellers and smart coffee shops as its neighbours. The upmarket environs not only ensure a steady stream of discerning customers, but also a regular supply of luxury goods.

As well as some modish furniture, there are rails and rails of clothes organised by colour, and they’ve even been known to stock such treasures as Missoni suits. If you’re just looking for a little something, they always have a selection of beautiful scarves to fend off that chilly Edinburgh wind.

Visit savethechildren.org.uk for details


British Red Cross, Shrewsbury


“We have a little gem of a shop in Shrewsbury,” says the British Red Cross’s director of retail, Paul Thompson. “It started off as a standalone vintage retro shop but has now broadened its stock base to please all shoppers. There’s a huge range of clothes and an old vintage cigar cabinet holds a priceless item or two.”

Purposely arranged to have a boutique-y feel, everything in the shop oozes classic style, from the specially designed clothes tags to the premises’ beautiful wooden beams. Of course—lovely ceilings aside—the reason the customers flock here is the chance to find something really special. And it’s gloriously likely: labels such as Vivienne Westwood, Nicole Farhi and Smythson are often sitting pretty, along with many on-trend pieces from high-street shops.  

What’s more, the impressive statistics mean you can spend without guilt: the sale of just one dress (at a paltry £12.99) will enable the British Red Cross to provide four jerry cans of drinking water to east Africa, thus protecting communities from water-borne disease.

Visit redcross.org.uk for details


Oxfam, Henley-on-Thames

This quaint Oxfordshire town is famous for it’s annual regatta, which takes place in July, but it’s certainly worth a visit at any time of the year. The pretty streets are filled with every type of shop—there’s even one dedicated to teddies—and this branch of Oxfam certainly holds it own amongst the exclusive offerings.

Positioned in the bustling market place, it stocks a broad range of vintage, new and “gently used” goods, including men’s, women’s and children’s clothes, handbags, jewellery, shoes and a continually replenished assortment of homewares. They also have an especially good selection of hats which—considering the town is prime location of the summer social season—isn’t all that surprising.

It is, however, unexpectedly enticing. Go in for a simple t-shirt and you may well find you walk away with a feathered fascinator…

Visit oxfamhenley.co.uk for details


Barnado’s, Cheshire

The village of Alderley Edge has existed in some form since Medieval times, but it’s been figuratively “put on the map” in recent years. Of course, in literal topographical terms, it’s a mere 15 miles from Manchester—which has resulted in many sporty types opting buy property here. You may well wonder what relevance this has to charity shops? It’s very simple: designer clothes.

The bedizened residents are certainly generous when it comes to donating their no-longer-used threads. “It’s not uncommon for celebrities to pop in an give us donations of high-tend clothing and accessories,” confirms shop assistant Susan Kemp. “A couple of months ago Freddie Flintoff came into the shop to kindly donate a singed cricket shirt. It’s definitely not your typical charity shop!”

In fact, in just one visit to this unassuming Barnados branch, it’s likely you’ll find more high-end pieces than you can carry.  MaxMara skirts, Armani tops and Valentino jackets have all been snapped up (and none of these cost more than £30). A good tip is to ask what they have in the back, and often they stock more than they can display on the shop floor. 

Visit barnardos.org.uk for details


RSPCA, Manchester


For manager Richard Hartley and his deputy Caroline Taylor, this shop in Manchester’s Northern Quarter is a passion project. Both are self-confessedly “charity-shop mad” and their enthusiasm and eye for detail can be found in the way they arrange garments not only in colour categories, but conveniently next to matching accessories. “We have a really nice window display and as a consequence, we do get some great donations,” says Caroline. “We love our job.”

In fact, from the handwritten labels to the carefully curated display outfits to the fairy lights adorning the bookshelves—not to mention the resident pooch, Fletch—everything convenes to make you feel as though you’ve been invited into someone’s lovingly appointed home. 

Of course, Fletch is a reminder that the sale of every trinket here goes to a heart-wrenching cause. RSPCA Manchester & Salford alone needs £300K each year to continue its work of rescuing and rehoming abandoned animals. There’s every excuse, then, to buy a nearly new pair of shoes.

Visit manchesterandsalfordrspca.org.uk for details


Sue Ryder, Burford

Lying at the gateway of the coveted Cotswolds, Burford is the ideal location for a long weekend. The broad High Street, largely unchanged since Tudor times, is a honey-coloured smorgasbord of traditional tearooms, ancient pubs and quaint shops that slopes gently down to the Windrush River. There are also plenty of gardens to explore and scenic walks to enjoy.

If it all sounds rather idyllic it’s because, well, it is. And what better way to top off a tranquil weekend getaway than by picking up a few bargains? The Sue Ryder shop is at the heart of the High Street, and is renowned for it’s fine stock and friendly service. Here you’ll find especially desirable (and often antique) bric-a-brac, along with fashionable apparel from Yves St Lauren, Prada and Ralph Laruen. Says manager Diana Trinder, “We get the most interesting things donated by the local community. Recently we received some Fulham pottery and several albums of John Player cards.”  Time to start a new collection, perhaps…

Visit sueryder.org for details


Fertha, London/Online


This understated boutique, which occasionally operates as “pop-up” in various locations in London, has grand designs. “At the core of fertha is to turn mass-production shopping on its fashionista head,” says founder Jade Alice Galston. “We want to change the life cycle of clothes and the way people think about second-hand shopping forever.”

It may all look shiny and new, but all of the pop-up’s offerings are sourced from donations. This not only offers charities another revenue stream—fertha’s profits support several—but also enhances the ethical impact (not to mention decreasing the environmental one) of consumers’ relentless pursuit of style.

The pop-up design is sleek, serene and more minimalist chic than bursting-at-the-seams abundance. The way everything is laid out, from the perfectly pressed clothes to the 1920s-esque champagne glasses, makes you feel you’re surrounded by luxury. If you can’t make it to the capital, fear not—they also have an online shop.

Visit fertha.com for details

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