So, does charity begin at home?

In one sense I am feeling slightly guilty because I am currently shouting out about the negative aspects of charity shops and I am fully aware that this can, on evilfacebook at least, make me seem like a bit of an arse. I am not in any way against charity shops on the whole. Whilst at university, I volunteered at an Oxfam Bookshop (partly cos I wanted to do ‘something good’, but partly because I wanted to try and get some of my expensive course books cheap!). Without charity shops, my daughter would of spent the first couple of years of her life naked and without any of her own books. Her cot, moses basket and pram all came from charity shops. I know first hand how essential they are to a huge proportion of the population.

But…there is another issue going on here. Every highstreet in the UK now has numerous charity shops, and many towns (including my own) has charity businesses with more than one retail premesis. As other vast chains expand from city centres into suburbs and small market towns, our highstreets are very quickly becoming identikit centres, often resembling an airport departure lounge. As independent businesses struggle to compete with online shopping, British Red Cross and British Heart Foundation are poised on the sidelines ready to jump into their graves to sell you a Primark jumper for more than it cost brand new.

One of the many reasons that charity shops are spreading so quickly is because they pay just 20% business rates and so are easily able to pay above the market rental rate, despite having huge incomes. Because of this, charities are able to secure prime town-centre locations which independent and start up businesses could only dream of. (I would like to register my family as a charity and pay 20% of our council tax please. Then, using the money saved, we could move into a penthouse suite in Beetham Tower. That would be nice).

The Welsh government are ahead of the game. In 2013, they recognised the negative impact on socio-ecomonic issues connected to the rapid spread of charity shops and proposed that instead of an 80% reduction, charities should pay half the business rates. If independent/start up businesses were able to do the same, even just for the first 6 or 12 months of trading, then the current state of the highstreet would be markedly different.

I live in a town with a rich and varied cultural history – it is both the birthplace of Dangermouse, as well as the childhood home of the BeeGees amongst many other things. When I first moved here, Dave Lister lived round the corner – Dave Lister! (the 25 year old me was just as excited by this fact as the 12 year old me would of been). It is a town filled with creative people and interesting characters. And so it amazes me that, whilst people are prepared to pay three hundred grand for a 2 bedroomed house, they are willing to sit back and watch their town centre fall into decline and not take direct action. As council tax contributors, we all, in a sense, own our town centres, yet the majority sit back and do nothing to keep hold of what makes our towns our homes . And as a mother, I feel very strongly that I should fight hard to ensure that my daughter will continue to grow up in a place with a strong sense of community.

This is all sounding slightly off message now, but it is all relevant. I accept and understand the need for change, but some of the changes that have developed in the last decade do not benefit social progression. The steady rise of charity shops is just one of many factors which has changed the face of the UK’s highstreets in the 2 decades I have been a direct consumer, but it is only recently that I have really given thought to the consequences of this.

You can read a little more about how this issue is personally affecting me and a whole bunch of amazing folk here: Please sign to show your support to people with big dreams. And if you want to hear what I’m trying to say in a much more eloquent way, please listen to the words of the legendary Harvey Andrews:

Thank you.