Charity Begins at Home on the Streatham High Road

By: EJ Ward

When I said to people that I was going to move to Streatham the first thing people mentioned was the food. We are well provisioned with more places to eat, than Donald Trump had votes.

But, what people failed to mention was their dirty little secret, the charity shops. In the past charity shops were looked down upon by people, they were places for those who had nothing to go to buy other people's castoffs. Often the clothing would be on its last legs, or ill fitting. It wasn't  a place one admitted to going.

Things have changed, not just in Streatham but across the UK. Visiting a charity shop is now accepted, there are forums on the Internet dedicated to it, social media groups where you can show off your latest bargain, and countless lists of tips.

What's this got to do with Streatham , I hear you say. Well, not only is Streatham one of the best places to get food in South London, it's also packed full of charity shops.

I have size 11 feet, sometimes I struggle to get shoes. In Streatham there are very few places that sells shoes, especially ones that won't fall apart after a few miles. So the answer came to me in a flash, well actually the answer came to me in the British Heart Foundation. There was a pair of Converse All-Stars on the shelf, I always look, but they are always the wrong size. Picking them up, in anticipation, I thought they looked large enough and, low and behold, they were an eleven.

Now, I find it odd when I am buying shoes when the price is less than the size, the price was £8.00, yes eight of your English pounds. That is less than eleven, it’s even less than ten. A brand new pair of shoes for eight quid.

And I am not the only one, social media is full of people who’ve secured bargains, one Twitter user let me know they got an Armani suit for, yep you’ve guessed it, £8.00. There are others out there who make their livings from scouring charity shops in well to do areas and then selling the items on the internet.

It was hard to get much information out of them, for fear of their business being taken away, but one re-seller said the best thing to do was find the unusual sizes, because they’re the hardest to obtain in shops, and the most searched for online because they’re rare.

When I popped into Sense, I spoke to the new manager Lisa. Sense who said that their best bargain, since they opened thirteen weeks ago, was two pairs of Churches mens shoes, which sold for a quarter of retail price. Lisa said she had many regular customers, and the store is laid out like it is a normal shop. I bought a brand new scarf for £5.00 (Ed, can I put that on expenses?).

When I spoke to the staff in Shelter I was shocked to find how often they suffer from thefts, it seems to be a regular occurrence with thieves taking items into the changing rooms and swapping price labels for lower prices items, or just pocketing them.

Every charity shop I went in, when I asked what they wanted most, said they needed volunteers, because without people who are willing to give a few hours a week they would be lost. Lisa from Sense said that the best thing people can do is go into the store and speak to her if they are thinking about volunteering, and it’s not just front of house work, Shelter and the British Heart Foundation are looking for web sales gurus, as well as a raft of social media and admin roles.

Oh, and donations, they want your stuff too. We have several types of charity shop in the area ranging from clothing and household items, to books and CDs. If you have something, or lots of somethings you don’t need any more then now is an ideal time to donate them, and if you are a UK taxpayer, the charity can claim Gift-Aid on your donations. This means the charity gets tax off your donation, it doesn’t cost you anything and they get more money, and you get rid of your junk. In reality they can claim back 25p for every £1.00 donated. If that system worked with pubs then I could take the next month off…

Christmas is coming (which sounds like a bad Game of Thrones parody), check out one of the plethora of great charity shops we have on our doorstep, in the run up to the big day the @HeartStreatham twitter account will be posting some of the best buys on the High Road.

EJ is a journalist who works in multimedia, broadcast, print and digital for a variety of news organisations. Based in London he can often be found rushing from pub to coffee shop, looking for WiFi or somewhere to charge his phone.