Harnessing the nation’s new skills

How was lockdown for you?

For many, it has been a really difficult and challenging time, worrying about our own and our loved ones’ health, missing seeing friends and family and not being able to do lots of things we enjoy.

For some too, it’s been a time to reflect, to get some peace and quiet – perhaps to make decisions about how we want to live our lives in the future and understanding what’s really important to us.

However it was for you, we bet you’ve done at least one thing you’ve never done before.

People on a Video Call

Take Zoom for example – hands up if you were regularly video calling pre-lockdown? We know we weren’t. Or what about planning shopping for you and perhaps friends, family and neighbours who are vulnerable, using online ordering and working out what to do when there’s no loo roll or pasta available?  And let’s not even get started on making sourdough and banana bread …

For lots of us, whether we know it or not, lockdown has made us learn new skills.

At The Charity Retail Consultancy, we realised pretty early on that a lot of our usual work visiting shops, undertaking audits, reviews and training, was all going to stop. So we quickly thought about how we could help and what we could do. Within a couple of weeks we had devised, filmed and delivered four initial video training sessions for shop staff that we called Lockdown Learning. It was as much a learning for us as it has been for the hundreds of shops staff who have since watched the sessions – we’re really proud of our new technical skills and are using them to develop more exciting sessions for the sector in the coming weeks and months.

So – what’s been your lockdown learning and how can you make sure that you and your team can make the most of it in your shops? Have you taken to using social media to keep in touch where you didn’t really do it before? Have you overcome your fear of technology? Have you realised you’re way more creative that you thought now you’ve finally had the time to decorate your bedroom after watching Escape to the Chateau on a loop?

All of these skills are transferable to the workplace. Communicating differently – perhaps more regularly – with your team can mean that engagement with the charity and problem solving becomes easier. Trusting your shop teams to use social media themselves, allowing them to embed themselves into their new, tighter-knit community will be a huge and beneficial step forward for some.

Understanding how to appeal to a post-COVID customer base will be vital in future success for many charities and the shared and individual learning we have all gone through is going to be a huge help.

Our session at the Build Back Better Conference is all about looking forward and making the most of your and your teams’ new skills. We’ve already got lots of examples but we always love to hear more, so if you want to tell us about what you’ve learned, please drop us a line at hello@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk We’re really looking forward to hearing from you and sharing all the brilliant and inventive things our sector is up to. See you there!

Hear more from The Charity Retail Consultancy, sponsors of the the Build Back Better Conference, 22 – 24 September 2020 – info and booking here.

How do we get enough volunteers into our charity shops now we’ve reopened? 

At The Charity Retail Consultancy we recently undertook a survey of almost 300 charity shops to find out their biggest reopening challenge post COVID-19. Resoundingly, it was a lack of volunteers returning to the roles they had before lockdown.

Why are volunteer numbers down?

Understandably, people are nervous and scared to return to normal. Many volunteers working in charity shops are over 70, and although there is no official guidance to say these people can’t return, having been seen as ‘vulnerable’ all through the pandemic it is natural that they feel worried and perhaps more susceptible to the virus.

For those who have been shielding very vulnerable friends and family members, going back to work in a public facing role is something that doesn’t seem possible just now.

Generally, coming out of lockdown is a challenge for many of us. Young or old, we have been living a different life over the past few months, mainly in the safe nest of our homes. Stepping out into the big word again feels odd and even dangerous.

Volunteering is fundamentally something that people do through choice – they are under no obligation to do it. If we are looking at how to manage non-essential contact to keep the virus under control, volunteering could be seen to fall into that category.

What does this mean for charity shops?

For some, it simply means they are unable to reopen at all. We know of several charities who are either remaining entirely closed, or are just able to open some of their shops on reduced hours. St Gemma’s Hospice, Leeds spoke eloquently on our You and Yours feature about the impact on their chain of 24 shops and how they were able to open just 9 shops with primarily paid staff as many of their volunteers couldn’t or didn’t want to return.

Pic: Nicola Woodgate, Head of Communications at St. Gemma’s Hospice speaks to BBC Radio 4


So what can charity shops do?

All is not lost – there are ways to help improve the situation and we have worked with Dan O’Driscoll from Engagement Consultancy to produce some tips and ideas for you here.

Supporting the volunteers you already have.

A great idea shared by several charities is to invite volunteers to the shop before reopening so they can see what precautions you have taken and the safety measures in place. This can also be done after reopening but outside of trading hours.

Having all the right PPE and safety measures in place for your volunteers is a must. Taking time to source comfortable masks and/or visors, providing gloves for sorting, hand sanitiser for the back room as well as shop floor and easy to follow safety instructions will all help the team feel safer to return.

Pic: Highland Hospice, Dornoch Shop


For those charities who have connected with their volunteers during lockdown on social media via platforms such as WhatsApp or Facebook, this is a great opportunity to share information and swap success stories. As a national charity, Oxfam has had phased openings across the country, and volunteers in earlier opening stores have been able to tell of their experiences via a national Facebook group, which has helped reassure others waiting to return.

Recruiting volunteers.

10 practical tips that you can do to support volunteer recruitment, retention and engagement. 

1 Start with your team – It’s easier to retain a volunteer than to recruit a new person. Whilst in lockdown, everyone has been taking the time to engage and communicate with their volunteers, in a way that hasn’t happened at scale before. Now that we’re phasing out of lockdown, it can be easy to stop engaging and communicating with your team. For some volunteers, now is not the right time to come back, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be volunteering in the future. It can be hard to juggle communicating to volunteers who are back and those that aren’t, but it’s vital that engagement is continued.

2 Going back to your existing contacts and getting in touch with them again. This could be local corporate partners, organisations that you have had relationships with before or previous volunteers. Start communicating that you are open for business and that you need people to support you. Write out a template that you can email and personalise

3 Be clear with your ask. What do you need right now to get you through this period. You may have to balance recruiting volunteers who have specialist skills against volunteers who have time. What is the greatest need in your shop? For the short term, you may just need to recruit someone who is able to staff the front door of the shop to manage customer numbers. Is it essential for you to recruit a specialist book volunteer now? Plan out what are the essential roles to recruit for. 

4 Flexible volunteering / short term. Being flexible in your offer is really attractive to potential volunteers. Some people might have a few weeks or more left until they are off furlough. Can you advertise that you are able to take on people on a short term basis so that they are able to make a contribution. This could be four shifts in total, but it could mean the difference between opening and closing the shop. Can you offer micro volunteering roles? Do volunteers have to come into the shop? Are you able to create virtual volunteering opportunities that people are able to complete at home? 

5 Researching what are the places that are open in your local community. Supermarkets might be the only places that are busy. Communities are reopening differently, therefore knowing what’s happening where you are is key. If locals are just going food shopping, can you contact Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi,  etc to see if they are willing to let you advertise roles? Can you drop some materials off for their staff to share?

6 Using digital advertising to your advantage. How can your existing team support you in spreading the word in your community digitally? Having a presence locally either through your social pages or being part of online community groups (e.g. resident Facebook groups) can further your reach and engagement. Have you set up your own social media accounts? With businesses having to adapt their offer and moving services online, how can you react to that? Local business networking meetings are still happening, but they’ve moved online. Can you join and talk about your shop and your offer? Are you able to talk to local businesses? 

Close-up Photography of Smartphone Icons

7 Are you able to review your processes to take on volunteers quicker? Some charities are adapting their processes during reopening to make it easier for new volunteers to join. This may be a temporary change and you must still make sure that you’re safe and legal in recruiting volunteers, but what can you do to speed up the process of them joining and making a contribution, e.g. getting references over the telephone instead of email/letter. Is this an opportunity to cut down on some on the internal bureaucracy?

8 Talk about the difference that volunteering is going to make to your beneficiaries. Volunteering isn’t always about gaining skills for your CV. We’ve seen the power of volunteering in bringing people together during the pandemic. For many, this could be their first time volunteering. How can you showcase the impact of what that person can do whilst they are volunteering for your shop?

9 Keeping it local. A report published by the New Local Government Network highlights the impact that local community groups or Mutual Aid Groups (MAGs) have had on communities during Covid-19. What the report demonstrates is how important the local community is in bringing people together and supporting each other. Making sure that your shop is part of that conversation within your local community is paramount. If you’re not part of your community, then you’re not going to be able to engage with your potential new volunteers. 

10 Last but not least, is to have a plan. Whatever approach you take, write down what you’re going to do, what support you need and when you’re going to do. Writing down a plan makes it real and you’re far more likely to follow through and do it. Don’t give up, persistence is key. If something isn’t working then it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it might not be the right time for that approach. Move on to the next idea and keep trying 🙂

If you need a recruitment plan template, then please get in touch. 

Here are some links to resources and great examples from across the sector

We worked with the You and Yours team at BBC Radio 4 to put together a feature on volunteering in charity shops. St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds did a great interview from their Moortown shop and listeners were pointed to how they can help. You can listen to it here. 

The Charity Retail Association, in association with corporate member Wil-U, has set up a fantastic new site where people can sign up to be a charity shop volunteer. Details are passed to relevant local member charities to make contact and set up arrangements to get started. There have been 1000 sign ups so far, showing how much interest there is in helping out. 


The RSPCA have created a fabulous micro volunteering offer. It’s been so successful that the roles have all been filled, however their role profile is a great example of a template that you could use. 

Cancer Research Wales have taken the opportunity to revamp their volunteer role profiles during lockdown. Working with Vicki from our Consultancy, they put together some fab roles such as “Shop Superstar”, “Driver’s (Best) Mate” and “Merchandising Maestro” to help attract new volunteers. 

St Barnabas Hospice in Lincolnshire put out this great press release encouraging school leavers to volunteer in their shops https://www.facebook.com/StBarnabasLinc/posts/2995997283801

Save the Children have developed a great new role of Volunteer Greeter to encourage people  to join the team and help with social distancing and queue management as part of the new safety measures. 

We loved this image shared by Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice Retail Team on Twitter, showing how how volunteering has lots of different benefits

Shelter have launched this great new recruitment campaign, picking up on the kindness shown and felt throughout Lockdown


The sector has so far had a really successful reopening, but there’s no doubt that getting the right volunteers in the right place at the right time to support the shops into the future is a challenge. But we have seen from the many examples in this blog that charity retailers are resilient and innovative people and we are sure that the sector will be back to full strength again soon.

About us & contact details

Voted Supplier of the Year 2019 in the Charity Retail Awards, we provide a range of services to support charities and other not-for-profits to make the very most from their retail and trading operations. 

We are charity retail experts and can help you with all aspects of your reopening and beyond.

To learn more or to arrange an informal chat, contact us at hello@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk, visit our website or call us:

Vicki Burnett –        07985 574904        

Jayne Cartwright – 07598 243210      

We specialise in strategic planning, audience engagement and learning & development interventions. Focusing on volunteering, staff and supporters in the not for profit and higher education sector. Dan also works as an Executive Coach to improve performance, unlock potential and support new recruits in their first senior leadership role. 

Daniel O’Driscoll – 07515 395683      


Main pic: Phyllis Tuckwell shop, Guilford

The roller coaster of reopening charity shops – what we know so far

The last few months have been a huge challenge for charity retailers, and not only because of the heartache and loss of income that closing shops created. The enormous job of planning reopening – on shifting sands as guidance changed daily – has been a gargantuan effort by the whole sector. Now that we are here and reopening is happening we thought we’d take a moment to share some of the early findings from charity retailers we’ve been speaking with across the UK.

It’s good to be back

Hooray! The high street, customers, donors and lots of staff and volunteers are delighted to see shops trading again. Overall, the first few days and weeks are looking positive as everyone settles into the new normal.  Sales have been reported to be really buoyant and in lots of cases up on this time last year which is great news

Pic: Highland Hospice, Beauly Shop

Stock is abundant – but not necessarily brilliant

As predicted, the nation’s lockdown clear outs have produced unprecedented amounts of stock, all arriving in a short space of time. Many charities have been inventive, intelligent and innovative in how deal with this anticipated wave of donations. Timed collections and deliveries, drive-through drop offs, pre-opening donation days, videos, social media, press and TV have all been used to manage the influx really well.

As with all donations, not all of it is saleable – quality has been reported to be lower than average, so sorting – including a 72 hour quarantine period – is having to be carefully managed. Additionally, rag merchants aren’t fully up and running yet, so disposing of unwanted/unsaleable stock is proving a challenge. Some charities are selling their own waste textiles online in bundles, others have their own rag processing systems, some are storing it until the price rises and the wheels are fully turning again before selling it on.

Pic: St Barnabas Hospice, Lincolnshire, Donation Drive-Thru,

Collections are possible

Many charities, especially those who rely heavily on furniture, have managed to get their collection services up and running again. Drivers and their mates have used cab dividers, masks, visors, hand sanitiser, gloves and other PPE. Donors are asked to bring their item out of the house where possible, but if this can’t happen, they are asked to wait in another room whilst the goods are collected. Early reports are that furniture sales are going well.

Customers are complying with the rules – mostly!

Overwhelmingly, charities are telling us that their customers are patient, kind and accepting of the new rules. Many shops have hand sanitiser by the door and most customers are using this as they enter and leave the shop, meaning items touched as they browse aren’t being contaminated.  Social distancing is something we are used to now and customers are happy to oblige.

Most charities have closed their changing rooms and are backing this up with a robust refund policy so customers can buy with confidence. This hasn’t stopped some people trying goods on in the shops though – despite signs asking them not to, so this is something to watch out for.

Volunteers are nervous about returning

By far the biggest issue we have been told about is a shortage of volunteers. Whilst some volunteers can’t wait to get back to work, many are simply too nervous to return, worried about infection and adjusting to being back out in the big wide world after such a long time.

There are many ways charities are trying to help with this:

  • Inviting volunteers to come and see the shop before it reopens, to help them see the measures in place to help keep them safe;
  • Keeping in touch via phone and social media, sharing positive stories, sometimes from other fellow volunteers, to help build confidence and remove the unknown;
  • Opening shops in phased way and allowing space at the start and end of each day to replenish and clean down without customers around;
  • Recruiting new volunteers from a variety of sources – including some of the brilliant schemes the Charity Retail Association has set up for its members;
  • Fast-tracking new volunteers and accepting offers of help for limited time periods, rather than asking for a long term commitment.

Some shops won’t make it

Sadly, some shops won’t reopen. We know of several charities who have taken the tough decision to close one or more of their shops permanently. This is mainly where they simply can’t make a profit with social distancing guidelines in place – often small shops where not enough customers or volunteers can come in at once to make it work. This is heart breaking for all involved – especially as we know that charity shops are so much more than “just a shop”. Many directly offer their charities’ services, by providing volunteering opportunities or drop in sessions for their service users, or signposting help, advice and support. These closures will impact on the vulnerable in our society at a time when they so desperately need help and support.

Online is growing

Inevitably, many charities have taken the opportunity to focus on growing their online operations. Some continued to trade online throughout lockdown, others chose to pause and some hadn’t got going yet – but undoubtedly there will be a big focus on selling online as we move forwards. As the best entry point for online selling, eBay have generously offered free training for charities either starting up or growing their eBay operation, so do make sure you sign up.

Charity shops are here to stay

Despite all that has been thrown (sometimes literally!) at the sector, charity shops are bouncing back once again. Having ridden the storms of recession and being blamed for the decline of the high street over the past decade, we know that our beloved charity shops are here to stay. As we said at the beginning of all this, our wonderful sector is still proving itself to be thoughtful, resourceful, creative and resilient – saving the planet, raising millions of pounds for  huge range of causes and keeping the high street buzzing. You just can’t keep a good charity shop down.

Welcome back everyone – we missed you.

Pic: Marie Curie Community Hub, Bristol

Title pic: Oxfam, Harborne

The Charity Retail Consultancy are charity retail experts and can help you with all aspects of your reopening and beyond.

To learn more or to arrange an informal chat, contact us at hello@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk  or visit our website

Volunteers’ Week 2020

Happy Volunteers’ Week everyone!

To mark the start of this special – and unusual – Volunteers’ Week, Vicki chatted with our good friend Dan O’Driscoll from Engagement Consultancy about what we think might be different this year, and why volunteering is so important. You can watch the video of our chat here.




UPDATE – Keeping your charity shop teams engaged during COVID-19

At the start of the pandemic, we got together with our good friend Daniel O’Driscoll from Engagement Consultancy to give you ideas on how to keep your volunteers engaged whilst your shops are closed.   We loved all of your feedback and support of our first piece and have pulled together some further advice and guidance now that we are 6 weeks down the line – this time with input from charities across the sector. Thank you to everyone who’s been in touch with your ideas – we hope you find it both interesting and useful.


A wealth of information and resources have been produced and made available by NCVO. These are normally reserved for members, but have been made public due to Covid-19. These will be available for a limited time as they have made clear on their website.
They have a dedicated Coronavirus page which you can find here and a dedicated volunteering page which you can access here

There are some great examples of how volunteers are able to get involved and support the local community during the pandemic, some of which may be suitable for your charity and worth highlighting to your volunteers.

The page also provides guidance on volunteering during the pandemic.

Virtual volunteering buddy

With isolation affecting so many people, being able to develop a befriending volunteer offer may be something that your charity is able to do.

Befriending Networks is an organisation that supports befriending services. They have produced some excellent guidance on befriending services during Covid-19.

Befriending Networks have also made “Being a befriender: The Good Practice Guide” free to all to support organisations with their befriending services. You can access the PDF document here

Sharing volunteer stories

We love this example of the Oxfam Bideford shop and their amazing volunteers who have created their own face masks from unsaleable t-shirts. This is a really great example of showcasing how the volunteers are still engaged and connected to the shop and the local community. It appeals to different audiences too – to Oxfam supporters to help them see how much volunteers love working with the charity, and to the volunteers themselves, showcasing them and making them feel valued.

What stories do you have about your volunteers that you could share with your supporters? Have your volunteers been helping out in their communities during the pandemic, sewing scrubs, shopping for vulnerable people or helping others? These stories show what great people work with you and could encourage others to join in.

Do any of your volunteers have great stories to tell about their involvement with your charity? Perhaps a funny story from working in your shops, did they meet their partner whilst volunteering, or were they instrumental in setting up the charity? Sharing these human interest stories make the volunteers feel engaged and valued and your supporters interested.

Share them via your social media platforms, website, newsletters or any other communication methods you use.

Email communication

The British Heart Foundation is producing weekly communications to their volunteers which include a lot of helpful information. Here is an example of one of their recent emails for you to have a look at. Thanks to the team at BHF for letting us share this.

When planning an email communication, think about the following:

Is email the right form of communication for your volunteers?
What information can you include?
What are your volunteers asking for and how are you able to provide effective communication to them?

Flexible communication

Save the Children settled into a rhythm of communicating with volunteers and their focus is making sure everyone continues to feel connected – through calls, emails and regular updates on their Volunteer Intranet (Go Assemble). This is a great example of how one approach might not suit every volunteer, so it’s important to flex to what people need.

They have also implemented quite a few of the engagement ideas we suggested in our recent guidance and we’re delighted it’s working well for them.

Video communication

Ross Henderson, Head of Retail for Severn Hospice has been producing short videos and sending them through WhatsApp to his team to keep them updated. Using video is a great way to connect and get your message across. It’s also really personal and it keeps that visible leadership front of mind, which is really important in the current situation.

The Chief Executive of one small charity which works with people with learning disabilities made a video for their volunteers – all of whom are supported by the charity in their volunteering. This means that they still feel connected and really valued, so important when their volunteering is an integral part of their support network.

If you work with a national charity, you could think about producing an area video which you can send to your volunteers so that you are still engaging and connecting locally to your volunteers. It’s also a nice idea to encourage your volunteers to send in videos and share what they have been doing or what they are looking forward to most when they are able to get back into the shop.

Volunteer surveys

Lots of charities we’ve spoken to have used the lockdown to send out “pulse” (or short) surveys to volunteers. This could be something as simple as a well-being survey making sure that the offer of support is available.

It can also be used as an opportunity to ask volunteers for feedback on how they have been communicated with. Are you missing anything that volunteers would really value? It can be a really effective way to get insight.

You can use free online tools such as Survey Monkey  – make sure you click “sign up free”. You also don’t have to send it out the traditional way through email, you can send it through WhatsApp which might be a better way to get more volunteers completing the survey.

Social Media

Whilst not all shops have their own social media accounts – and not all volunteers will be tuned into every platform, this is still a brilliant way to keep in touch and let people know what you’re up to.

Championing volunteers on social media, talking about the roles they undertake – perhaps with a “Spotlight on…” series of posts, looking at different people and how they help – can be really engaging and motivating for volunteers and supporters alike.

WhatsApp groups for shop teams are really popular too, helping everyone keep in touch, share their lockdown experiences and plan for reopening. One team we know of set up a “Grayson’s Gang” group on WhatsApp so they could watch the Grayson Perry Art Club on TV and share their work with each other as they do it. A great way to keep creative and active, as well as uncover new talents (and perhaps a new window dresser or two…?!)

It is if course important to note that furloughed staff are not permitted to run social media accounts for their shops – but we’ve seen lots of fabulous volunteer run ones on Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps one of your volunteers would be interested in doing the same? Why not put out an appeal and see who’s out there? Another new skill and another great way to delegate meaningful and interesting work to your volunteer team.


Many charities have taken advantage of the time away from the shops to offer training to their teams. We all know how hard it can be to get sessions booked in with the daily pressures of running a shop, so this has been a great opportunity to do some learning.

Oxfam are running Zoom sessions for their volunteers and shop staff on topics from online selling to Oxfam’s work overseas and lots more besides. A great way to upskill and inform, meaning people are fired up, skilled up and motivated to return when the time comes.

The Charity Retail Consultancy produced a Lockdown Learning package of four x one hour video sessions, covering volunteer recruitment, stock acquisition, customer service and space management. Lots of charities have taken this up for their paid teams – and several shop managers have come back to us to tell us they will be sharing it with their volunteers too, which is great news. One manager from Primrose Hospice said she would be using what she has learned from the volunteering session to help recruit the new team members she will need when she reopens as, in line with many charity shops, she is certain that some of her existing volunteers will be reluctant or unable to return in the short term at least.

Support through coaching

This has been an unsettling time for staff and volunteers and knowing where to get the right support can be difficult. Engagement Consultancy have been working with charities to support their staff with coaching interventions during Covid-19. Focusing on supporting staff with well-being, self improvement and getting prepared for when shops reopen. Coaching can be a really effective way to make positive changes and have lasting impact.


We’ve seen some great examples of shop teams taking on different activities during lockdown to keep them engaged and have interesting and worthwhile things to do. One Martin House Hospice shop team started making crafted goods from their homes which will then be donated to the shop for selling when they reopen.

We’ve also seen teams doing quizzes, competitions and reading groups online. The CRA put together a great list of activities for volunteers during down time too.

Volunteers’ Week

The Charity Retail Association is producing a range of resources that will be available to their members to use during Volunteers’ Week. It’s a really important time to recognise the contribution that volunteers make so why not use it as an opportunity to say thank you.

Consider how you might celebrate volunteers’ week. One charity is having a “fizz on the lawn” – asking volunteers to come out into their gardens and join a video call to celebrate them and ‘virtually’ present them with their length of service awards.

Other charities are arranging webinars and video calls so that they are still able to say thank you to their volunteers face to face.

Lots of charities are sending out thank you cards and letters to their volunteers, so that the personal touch we’re all missing is still there.

You could have a landing page on your website with your volunteering stats highlighting the incredible contribution volunteers have made and are still making.

What can you arrange for your volunteers to mark the occasion?


Overall, our wonderful sector is still proving itself to be thoughtful, resourceful, creative and resilient when it comes to engaging with teams during lockdown. We’re grateful for everyone who has contributed to this blog and hope that you can all take some good ideas for keeping in touch over the coming weeks whilst we prepare to reopen.

We recommend that members of the Charity Retail Association continue to reference all of the resources and support available from them, as they have been busy compiling a huge of information to support charity retailers. And if you’re not already members, we recommend you join today!

We wish you good health and good engagement – and we hope to see your wonderful charity shops open and filled with life, love and laughter again very soon.

About us & contact details

The Charity Retail Consultancy

Voted Supplier of the Year 2019 in the Charity Retail Awards, we provide a range of services to support charities and other not-for-profits to make the very most from their retail and trading operations.

Vicki Burnett –        07985 574904        vicki@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk

Jayne Cartwright – 07598 243210        jayne@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk

Engagement Consultancy

We specialise in strategic planning, audience engagement, learning and development, and interim resourcing services. Focusing on volunteering, staff and supporters in the not for profit sector Dan works with all organisations of any size.

Daniel O’Driscoll – 07515 395683       dan@engagementconsultancy.co.uk

Lockdown Learning – essential training for charity shop teams

***UPDATE – 10.6.20***

We have added a brand new session to our Lockdown Learning package. For no extra cost, you will be able to access our pre-recorded webinar: “Well being leads to well doing – Exploring ways for a safe and healthy way out of Lockdown for your team” Devised and run for The Consultancy by Restorative Practice expert, Sarah Baggaley, this session introduces a whole new way to approach your relationships at work (and at home) to help ensure the best outcome for everyone. Charities who have already bought the Lockdown Learning package will automatically receive access to the session, along with useful links for planning this crucial element of reopening for business. Anyone purchasing the package from now on will receive all five sessions – and all at no extra cost.


We were thrilled to have this wonderful feedback on our Lockdown Learning package:

Congratulations on producing a wonderful resource which will help me train and update the retail staff and prepare them to return. It will also help me to maintain a connection – and I do believe it will positively impact their mental health and well being.”

David Burrell – CEO, Primrose Hospice

Designed with furloughed charity shop teams in mind, but suitable for all the retail team, these four online sessions provide practical ideas and guidance around some of the key drivers to ensuring you are making the very most from your charity shops.

Each session is approximately one hour and is delivered in the form of slides with an accompanying narration. There are exercises for participants to do throughout each session and a takeaway “Ideas and Action” plan, which encourages staff to think about what they will do to improve their shop when they return to work.

Each session reminds teams to check in with their line managers before they make any changes, and we offer email or ‘phone support to anyone taking part in the courses.

The course content is as follows:

Recruiting and retaining great volunteers
• An overview of current charity retail volunteering, including up to date statistics and trends
• Assessing your volunteer need by carrying out a volunteer audit
• How to attract volunteers using tried and tested methods as well as new and innovative ones
• The benefits of volunteering
• Planning volunteer roles
• Rewarding volunteers
• Why and how to attract young people as volunteers

Stock acquisition and management
• Knowing the challenges of donated stock acquisition
• Understanding your stock generation needs
• Identifying the levels and types of stock needed and how to achieve the right stock levels
• Planning how to improve your stock generation activities
• Planning how to retain your stock donors

Customer service
• What good and bad customer service means for you
• What excellent customer service looks like
• The benefits of good customer service
• Current challenges
• How to increase customer numbers
• Instore experience – how to delight your customers
• Online presence – selling and engagement
• Building a community
• Collecting and using market research
• Going the extra mile

Making the most of your space
• Understanding the basic principles of space management
• Calculating % sales and % space
• Sales vs space – how to allocate your space to each department
• Filling your space – areas to consider
• Types of shop and styles of merchandising
• Using your shop fittings effectively
• Calculating potential sales

Costs include unlimited access for your charity staff and volunteers to the sessions & supporting documentation, plus follow up support via email or phone as required.
Charities with 0-5 shops* – £250 + VAT
Charities with 6-20 shops – £50 + VAT per shop
Charities with 21 shops or more – please contact us to discuss a price

*We are aware of some funders who may be able to help with costs for smaller charities and are happy to discuss this with you

How to access the leaning
If you would like to go ahead, please contact us at hello@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk
We will provide you with a link and password to access the sessions and supporting documentation. We ask that this is not shared beyond your organisation.

We look forward to hearing from you and continuing to support you and your teams through these uncertain times.

Ideas for engaging your teams whilst charity shops are closed due to COVID-19



This document has been prepared by Daniel O’Driscoll from Engagement Consultancy, and Vicki Burnett & Jayne Cartwright from the Charity Retail Consultancy with input from the Charity Retail Association Discussion Group on LinkedIn. We are also grateful for contributions from several charity retail leaders.

Together we have brought together ideas for you to help ensure your volunteer teams remain engaged through the shop closures – and what to think about when planning and implementing communication strategies.

If you are furloughing your staff, we recommend that you consult the Charity Retail Association (CRA) Coronavirus Guidance to ensure that anything you do complies with regulations surrounding this scheme before making any firm plans which involve your paid staff. If you are not already members of the CRA, you can join here.

Wellbeing & mental health

These are difficult times for everyone and it is highly likely some of your team will be worried, anxious or depressed. Some volunteers will already have their own mental health issues, and volunteering, with the structure and support it can bring, may have helped them to manage symptoms. With that opportunity no longer available, this can be a vulnerable time for people. It is important to take this into consideration when asking your staff to keep in touch with and support their volunteer teams. The points below provide suggestions as to what to consider and how to ensure your staff and volunteers are supported whilst the shops are closed.

Consider the impact for some of not being able to volunteer during this period. What can support for these people look like? More than ever, having provision for mental health and wellbeing to support shop teams will be at the forefront of helping volunteers and staff.

Think about how the team will manage the impact on vulnerable volunteers who might have poor mental health and/or dementia or who rely on the routine of coming to the shop regularly.

Where and how does your organisation draw the line to make sure staff are not feeling overly responsible for these volunteers – and how are they (the staff AND the volunteers) supported by the charity?

Having a clear and defined process for what to do if you are worried – either about yourself or someone else – will help staff and volunteers know where to turn. Ensure safeguarding is considered throughout this process.

If there are any vulnerable volunteers in your shops e.g. those who live alone or have health issues, your charity may be their only contact. If your staff are furloughed then it may be wise to ask them to share this information with you to ensure the volunteer doesn’t fall through the net. It is important, however, to be mindful of privacy and manage this within your organisation’s guidelines.

Be prepared for and open to information about volunteers and staff who may be struggling to come from different sources, e.g. from work friendship groups/peer groups.

Provide volunteers and those who are keeping in touch with them with a list of organisations who offer emotional and wellbeing support such as Mind or The Samaritans, so people have somewhere to turn or can signpost others (Links to some of these organisations are at the bottom of this document).

Investigate offering online Mental Health First Aid training to your teams who are supporting volunteers. (The Government have confirmed it is acceptable to offer training to furloughed staff).

Make wellbeing resources readily available to all volunteers via an easily and widely accessible intranet or your charity’s website.

Share ideas such as desk yoga, and mindful moments.

Take care of your own mental health and wellbeing – looking after yourself means you will be better equipped to look after your team.

Communication and engagement

The reason for keeping in touch with your volunteers is that you want to make sure that they are communicated to, that they can access support from your charity, but ultimately that you care for them and that you want to keep your volunteers engaged during this really uncertain period. When shops reopen, volunteers will be more important than ever so don’t take for granted that volunteers and supporters will just revert back to how it was before. Keeping them engaged will be key.

Having a communication plan

Are you able to coordinate and join up with internal teams on how you are communicating? Some of your shop volunteers will also be fundraisers in your charity, or campaigners or have other voluntary roles. If they are getting different comms from different departments, that isn’t joined up then that can have mixed messages. If one department is communicating well with their volunteers but shops aren’t getting the same level of support then how does that look?

Having a structured, joined up approach to communicating with volunteers and supporters will be essential. NCVO has a helpful resource which you can access

Visible leadership from senior staff

Your staff will be communicated to during this crisis, but there can be a disconnect with those messages getting through to your volunteers. Can your senior leaders, Heads of Retail, Trading Directors send out messages to your volunteers? One way this could happen is through video messages. Can your senior team send out a short video to volunteers telling them that they haven’t been forgotten, that you’re looking forward to seeing them again in person and if they want to get in contact sharing the ways in which they can do that.

How do volunteers want to be contacted during this period when shops are closed?

Can your Shop Managers make contact with your volunteers and ask how they would like to be contacted while shops are closed? If your Shop Managers are not able to make contact because they have been furloughed or are unwell, then what other resource internally do you have to make contact with volunteers?

Use your website

Using your website to create a dedicated page and a single source of information to communicate updates on COVID-19 in relation to your charity. Update that with what you are doing and what support you might need, how volunteers and supporters can keep in touch. You may decide to create a weekly / monthly email that volunteers and supporters can sign up to, so they can have information sent to them directly.

Phone contact

For on-going phone contact with volunteers, some charities have redeployed staff from other areas of the business e.g. street fundraisers, to contact volunteers directly to offer a friendly voice at the end of the phone. This could be especially important for any vulnerable volunteers or volunteers who are currently self-isolating.

Can you support your volunteers to start informal ring arounds between volunteers to offer support and a friendly voice at the end of the phone? Volunteers may already be in contact with each other, but having some coordination could help to make sure some volunteers don’t fall between the gaps.

Groups, forums and videos

Set up a volunteer email group to keep volunteers updated on what is happening in your charity. Direct your volunteers to the single source of information on your website.

Setting up an internal forum or extending an invitation for volunteers to join. You may already have an internal group on your intranet, or you might use Facebook workplace. But what existing groups do you have that volunteers could join and be part of? A local extension of this will be to have WhatsApp / Facebook groups that volunteers can join and connect with each other.

To keep that local connection and interaction with your volunteers, can your regional teams, Area Managers, Heads of Department record a short video message to send out to their volunteers? During shop closures, showing that you care and want to hear from volunteers will go a long way.

Have a regional, area conference / video call with your volunteers. Giving the option to dial into a weekly call where they can connect with staff, ask questions and get support. At the moment staff and teams will be having those calls with each other, so can this be extended to volunteers or create a specific call for them to join.

If you don’t have full contact details for all your volunteers, social media can be a big help – and reaching out to fellow shift members to ask those whose contact details aren’t available to get in touch. Using existing shop Facebook pages or setting up new ones can be a great way to keep in touch. Are you able to empower your teams to do this for themselves?

Online training

Refresher / online training for volunteers. With volunteers at home, this will be a good opportunity to do some refresher training with them or if you have the facility to send out some internal training to volunteers.

When shops re-open, if your volunteers have completed training or have upskilled in another section (books, high value items, online selling) then that will be a benefit for your shop. If individuals are eligible, Derby College runs free training courses for shop volunteers. Some of these have moved online now. You can get in touch with Lisa Ede who coordinates the courses. Lisa.Ede@derby-college.ac.uk

Keeping the team spirit alive

Can you arrange a virtual shop visit with your team or a shop meeting? Setting up a video call with your volunteers and Shop Manager to have a coffee and cake might be a really good way to keep connected and engaged. You also get to eat some cake!

Organise a team quiz or a coffee morning. Having that human connection during this will be vitally important and keeping that team spirit going will be essential. Volunteers can take the lead in organising this and setting up the meeting. Be mindful of volunteers who aren’t able to join virtually so consider other ways you can do this.

Are you able to celebrate any volunteer milestones (length of service) or your volunteer’s birthday? What would you do if the shop was open and how can you still celebrate and make that occasion virtual?

Don’t just focus on your favourite shops. It would be easy to call and get in touch with those shops that you have a close relationship with as it’s easy. Call and get in touch with those shops that you aren’t as close with and use it as an opportunity to get to know the team better.

Look at what other organisations are doing on their social media accounts. Use those good ideas for your charity. One such idea is showcasing your team or celebrating a birthday.

https://twitter.com/OxfamCastleSt/status/1243497698126372864 https://twitter.com/OxfamCastleSt/status/1243945728105426944

Encourage your shops to share their good news stories on their social accounts. Some of these might be older stories, or can you ask your volunteers to record themselves talking about their volunteering, why they joined and that they are looking forward to coming back.

You could do a short interview with your volunteers or a Q&A or get them to talk about what they did before volunteering in your shop. You can get really creative and put out some great content.

Teams could hold upcycling/crafting/poetry activities from home and encourage everyone to check in on each other’s progress (over the phone/via social networks etc). The physical crafting side will keep people busy and be a helpful distraction from current events – also it gives a positive topic to call about and ideas and patterns can be shared online. You could also use this as an opportunity for the team to create props for future window displays or items to sell in the shops when you reopen.


Further advice, help and information can be found via these links:

Mental Health & Wellbeing

The Samaritans
Mind – The mental health charity
The Retail Trust – CRA members have free access to their services
UK Government Guidance

To connect with sector colleagues

Charity Retail Association Discussion Group – via LinkedIn, with live discussion every Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 1pm and 2pm
Charity Shop Visual Merchandising & Display – Facebook Group showing examples of great visual merchandising and general charity shop chat

Fun stuff

The Charity Retail Association has set up a page full of ideas for volunteers and staff to do at home during lockdown

Volunteering advice & information

NCVO – National Council for Voluntary Organisations
Volunteering England
Volunteer Scotland
Volunteering Wales
Volunteer Ireland

Free Virtual Meeting Apps

Zoom – Video conferencing
Google Hangouts – Video Conferencing from Google
WhatsApp – Text, phone and video groups
WhyPay – Telephone conferencing

About us & contact details

The Charity Retail Consultancy

Voted Supplier of the Year 2019 in the Charity Retail Awards, we provide a range of services to support charities and other not-for-profits to make the very most from their retail and trading operations.

Vicki Burnett –        07985 574904        vicki@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk

Jayne Cartwright – 07598 243210        jayne@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk

Engagement Consultancy

We specialise in strategic planning, audience engagement, learning and development, and interim resourcing services. Focusing on volunteering, staff and supporters in the not for profit sector Dan works with all organisations of any size.

Daniel O’Driscoll – 07515 395683       dan@engagementconsultancy.co.uk

Expert help in a time of crisis

***UPDATE – 24th March 2020***

Given the ongoing and ever changing nature of the current situation, our offers may be subject to change. We remain happy to provide free telephone support so do call us if you need us and we will update you on how we can help.

The Charity Retail Association has set up a discussion group on LinkedIn and is hosting live discussions every Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 1pm and 2pm. We encourage you to join the group and the discussions.

Stay safe.

Vicki & Jayne


At The Charity Retail Consultancy, we are devastated to see the impact of COVID-19 on society and specifically on our beloved charity retail sector. We have spent the last two days putting together a toolkit to support charity retailers and are happy to share it with you here.

We can offer up to 1 hour free telephone consultation with any charity who would like our input. We can’t promise to fix all your troubles but we are charity retail experts and willing to provide ideas and suggestions to help your particular situation.

We have also developed a number of paid for services. We understand the financial pressures that charities and individuals (including ourselves at The Consultancy) are all facing right now, so have endeavoured to keep costs as low as possible to make our services accessible to all.

We can offer:
1. Online training.
We have developed a range of half day courses for up to 6 people, covering a range of topics. The courses mean your teams can spend their time away from the shops constructively, growing their skills ready for reopening when things settle. Currently these are:
• Online sales
• Volunteer recruitment planning
• Making the most of your sales area and building a stock generation plan
• Backroom organisation: making your “engine room” as effective as possible
• Implementing and maximising Gift Aid on donated sales
• Customer service training

2. Help setting up an online selling platform
Whilst your shops are closed, selling online is the obvious way to turn. If you need support and assistance setting up an ebay shop, putting processes in place, understanding what drives sales and creating then recruiting to volunteer roles, we can help. We have a one day session and can provide a how-to guide and templates to get you up and running as quickly as possible.

3. Retail Mentoring
A bespoke 6 x 1 hour package of mentoring for your senior team to help guide them through these turbulent times and plan for the future. This provides expert input and frees up CEOs or Directors of Income to focus on other pressing issues, knowing their Head of Retail is on track and supported.

4. Volunteer and Customer engagement
Help and guidance on how to keep your supporters – be that volunteers, customers, donors or your local community – on board and informed whilst you are closed or have limited opening hours. Beginning with a 2 hour telephone session, we will help guide and support you through this vital piece of work to ensure you have everyone on board when business is back to normal.

5. Building your social media platforms and profile
Now more than ever, social media is vital to keep your profile high and your friends on board. We can provide advice and support in establishing a shop by shop or all-charity presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

6. Online interactive support
For a deeper dive into your shops, be that improving sales floor layouts or revising back room layouts and processes, we can offer video calls on site to talk you through what will help to make the most positive impact when your shops are back in full business.

7. Retail strategy development
In order to have the right direction of travel ready to go when the crisis is over, we can support and guide you through developing a new retail strategy. Working within the strategic objectives of your organisation we will help you ensure that your retail offer brings exactly what you need, when you need it.

8. Retail feasibility studies
If you don’t already have shops but need to consider a retail presence to shore up future income, we can help. We are experts at conducting feasibility studies, finding the right shop locations and offer for your charity.

There is no doubt that we all have some challenging times ahead. We are 100% committed to standing alongside and supporting the sector where we have spent our working lives however we can. If we can help or support you with any of the items we have listed above, or anything else you think you may need, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Follow us on social media as we will be keeping up to date with developments and changes as they happen, sharing best practice, good ideas and words of comfort.

Join the Charity Retail Association if you aren’t already members – now more than ever we need a strong sector body – and they need all of us to be able to carry on working on our behalf.

Stay safe, stay well – and remember we are #StrongerTogether

Get in touch:

Email: hello@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk
Phone: Jayne on 07598243210 or Vicki on 07985574904


Upcycling is the new black

We’re all becoming increasingly aware of the impact of fast fashion on the environment, and how reuse is becoming the ‘new normal’ – meaning charity shops are finally being seen as the high street heroes we’ve long known them to be.

For the last 80+ years, charity shops have been quiet eco warriors, encouraging reuse and recycling not just of textiles, but also homewares, toys, books, music, furniture and pretty much anything else you can think of. According to the Charity Retail Association, in 2018/19 alone, charity shops diverted 339,000 tonnes of waste from landfill – a remarkable achievement.

So, with the increased awareness and desire to behave in a kinder way to our planet, how are charities responding and readying themselves for this new wave of supporters? Upcycling and remodelling is becoming increasingly popular and charity shops are a great place to start.

Some charities have been thinking creatively for many years. Back in the early 1990s, Oxfam set up a sub brand called NoLoGo which remodelled clothing and fabrics, creating high end, unique pieces which were snapped up in London and Leeds where the branches were based. This article about the founder Janette Swift, published in The Independent in 1991 could have been written yesterday, it resonates so strongly with today’s zeitgeist.

Karen Dennis, a trained pattern cutter and early champion of upcycled clothing worked with Janette in London and then with our own Vicki Burnett to set up a workshop and specialist department in a Leeds city centre Oxfam store which ran successfully for several years. The pictures below – kindly supplied by Karen – show a range of the items produced by NoLoGo the time – including a copy of the famous Liz Hurley dress made at the request of the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Skip forward a decade or so and we see more of this kind of work. Once again, Karen and Vicki collaborated – this time on an upcycling project called Martin House Makers for Martin House Children’s Hospice, encouraging anyone with an interest in crafts and sewing to upcycle and remodel items for resale. The project produced a wide range of upcycled goods, including Christmas decorations made from donated buttons and beads, bags and bunting made from fabric scraps, knitted outfits for Barbie dolls – and upcycled high end fashion as shown in the picture below.

Pic: By Leanne Clarke – upcycled clothing made by Martin House Makers & modelled by volunteers

These days, we are seeing lots of this type of project running in charity shops and beyond. Sue Ryder, for example, has a ‘Remade’ section in some of its shops (Headingley shop pictured) and Charity Shop Chic is just one of many blogs showing how to upcycle pretty much any item of charity shop clothing.


There are lots of ways to tune into and benefit from this wave of interest. Running workshops in shops (in or out of hours), having resident volunteer fixers and sewers based in the shop or from home, running events, writing blogs or making “how to” videos on transforming your charity shop purchase into a unique item are just some of the ways to engage the modern eco-conscious customer.

With years of experience in this field, the Charity Retail Consultancy can help, advise and support you in developing an upcycling offer that suits your shops and your team. From defining the right offer for you, developing volunteer role profiles, building a business case to invest in staff and resources, setting up a workshop space, building marketing programmes and running training courses, we’ve got it covered.

For a small investment, we can provide you with all the guidance, materials and training you need to help establish a long term engagement and income generating project within your shops.

So – what are you waiting for? Get ready to ride the upcycling wave and see your profits and profile soar.

Get in touch:

Email us at: hello@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk

Call Vicki on: 07985 574904


Featured pic at top of post by Leanne Clarke. Holly is wearing upcycled clothing from Martin House Makers

Charity retail learning & development – what you told us

The Charity Consultancy recently ran an online poll to find out more about training, learning and development opportunities within charity shops.

We know from research carried out in 2019 by Charity Finance that 9% of charities (from their sample of 71) spend less than £20 per staff member per year on training. Although things are improving and spend increased by 10.7% in 2019, this is still a tiny amount of money and a sorry state of affairs.

Retail staff are such key members of any charity’s team. Often they will be the first point of contact for potential service users or supporters, so it’s vital that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to represent their charity, as well as being successful retail fundraisers. Our experience is that lots of shop staff learn on the job – they might bring skills from previous roles, often from commercial retail – but frequently they are ‘feeling their way’ through a complex and important role, which involves people and management skills, stock control, merchandising, finance, problem solving, conflict resolution and so much more.

Investing in these people is therefore vital.

We asked charities a short series of questions to find out more, and this is what you said:

Have you trained your retail team in any of these key areas in the last 2 years?
89% said they had trained staff in Gift Aid and in volunteer recruitment and retention.
65% had provided customer service and merchandising training
Only 40% had provided people management training and even fewer had worked with their teams on areas such as social media, stock acquisition and succession planning

What are your team’s top training needs for 2020?
Despite it being one of the most popular topics already covered, charities told us they still need to focus on volunteer recruitment and retention. This is no surprise as the Charity Shops Survey 2019 listed shortage of volunteers as one of the top areas of concern for charity leaders.
Managing people was also a big focus for this year – which ties in with making sure you look after the people you already have, as well as finding new ones.

How much did you spend last year training each of your staff team?
In line with what we had already seen, over 50% of the charities who responded spent less than £25 per head on training their team last year. The positive story though, is that 20% spent over £150 per head, showing that some charities really do understand the value of a well-trained team.

In the past how have you accessed training for your retail team?
Over 75% of respondents have provided in-house training in the past – we think this reflects the high amount of mandatory and health and safety training carried out by many hospices and other charities. It’s fantastic when you have people in your team who can share their skills and experiences with others, but sometimes it’s good to look outside too, to make sure you’re getting a fresh perspective and tapping into new developments and ideas.

When we asked how people would like to offer training in the future, there was a fairly even split between bespoke courses, attending external courses and 1-1 mentoring.

Who do you want to offer training to?
Over 50% were focussed on training for shop floor staff – managers and assistants, followed by 20% for Area Managers. This reiterates our point at the start of this blog – that those on the shop floor are often charities’ best asset, so it’s vital that to value and invest in them.

So….what next?
It’s been fascinating to get a better picture of what’s happening and what people want in terms of learning and development. At the Charity Retail Consultancy, we listen to our clients’ feedback and always have an eye out to see what the latest trends, developments and needs are across the sector. The information we’ve gathered has given us a great foundation and we will be offering training over the next 12 months in a number of ways.

We will be running a series of training courses across the country this year. These will include:

Volunteer Recruitment – how to properly identify the gaps in your team and know the best ways to fill them. We’ll be focussing on making the most of the rise of the environmental activist – and how your shops can be their place of choice to help save the planet. This course is a new twist on a long standing topic and not to be missed!

Space Management & Merchandising – a brilliant way to help shop teams understand how to make the best use of their available space and where to focus their attention to get the best possible return.

Stock acquisition – as securing good quality stock becomes even more of a challenge, this session helps everyone be responsible for attracting the right goods to sell.

Customer Service – a long standing topic but in these challenging times for the high street, giving your customers the best possible experience in your shops is vital. Learn how to make your shop experience one that your customers love – and keep them coming back time after time.

Places are £100 per delegate for a full day.

Contact vicki@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk for more information, and look out for our newsletters & social media for details.

We will also continue to develop and run bespoke training courses for whole teams, delivered at your choice of location and for up to 20 people at a time. Contact either Jayne or Vicki if you’re interested in a great value way to build your team’s skills.

We already offer mentoring and 1-1 coaching for senior staff and there are great deals to be had if you book several sessions in advance.

Training is always on our agenda and we are happy to discuss your requirements with you, so your team gets exactly what they need to be the very best they can be. Do get in touch if you have any questions or want to know more – and keep your eye out on our social media platforms and website for new sessions and information.

Twitter – @charityretailco
Facebook – @thecharityretailconsultancy
LinkedIn – @thecharityretailconsultancy
Web – www.thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk
email – hello@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk
Tel – 07985 574904 / 07598 243210

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