Shopping at charity shops in England

Up until recently, I never shopped at a charity shop. The idea of buying somebody else’s discards didn’t appeal to me. It sounds so bourgeois, I know.

So I bit the bullet on my latest trip to England. I went into a charity shop in my mother-in-law’s village in the south-west of England. And then visited another. And another. I became addicted to them! I bought a few things that are easy to carry in my suitcase. I haven’t bought any clothes or shoes, though; I’m not quite there yet.

What is a charity shop?

A charity shop is a shop that sells donated goods and whose primary purpose is to raise money for their parent charity (source)

Among the donated goods are clothes, shoes, books, china, kitchen gadgets or toys. Charity shops do not sell or receive electronics, appliances and furniture.

charity shops
A Sue Ryder shop at the village

Where do these goods come from?

People bring bags of donations, or leave them at the shop’s doorstep. Some are bought fair trade products and some are overstock or obsolete stock from local shops.

What about prices?

Very inexpensive! The idea is that everyone benefits, from the charities to customers who cannot afford regular store tag prices. And, honestly, even donors benefit here as they get rid of unwanted stuff that may be useful to somebody else.

Typically, the manager sets the prices but some organizations provide a price guide.

And it helps that charity shops pay 0% VAT and get 80% mandatory non-domestic tax relief.

charity shops
Bargain books

Who works at charity shops?

Charity shops are run by a hired manager, who is paid a salary, and volunteers. Some volunteers may get travel expenses paid but that’s about it.

What’s it like to shop at a charity shop?

If you’re looking for something specific, you may be disappointed unless it’s your lucky day. Come in with an open mind and browse. You’ll never know what you may find.

The goods are grouped by type: clothes, china, books, and so on. Since the volunteers don’t get a commission, they aren’t pesky and let you browse to your heart’s content

In case you forget to bring your own bag, you can purchase one for 10 p (at least at Sue Ryder)

Truth be told, I’ve noticed a certain odor inside some of these shops. The donated stuff is usually clean, or the volunteers clean it themselves. Maybe ventilation is deficient in some of the buildings, which can be 100 or 200 years old or more. Don’t let this stop you. I particularly enjoy the thrill of the hunt for a treasure. In my case, antique china or an interesting book.

If you happen to be in the UK, go to a charity shop. You may find the perfect gift for a loved one or a souvenir that will remind you of this trip for ever.

charity shops
Oxfam shop in Guildford

But what did you buy?

Two Wedgewood china boxes (£4.95 each), a 1950’s dinner plate (£1.75), two travel books (£1 each) and four Art Nouveau plates (£3.95). I looked up their mark and found out it was used in the interwar period. This is what I love about charity shops; you can buy objects with real history behind them.

charity shops
My loot

Does this pin look good on your board?

charity shops

4 thoughts on “Shopping at charity shops in England

  1. I’ve only shopped at a charity shop once here in L.A. (aka, “thrift shop”), and unfortunately, it was a bad experience. I remember that a scarf I picked out had a worm – a real live white worm – on it! Yikes! I haven’t given charity shops another shot since. But I have friends who swear by them. I’d definitely shop for books and things like that at thrift shops. Looks like you got some great finds!


    1. Yikes! What a nightmare!
      I’ve never been to a thrift store in the US before. Now I feel I have to go and compare both experiences. I’ll look for non-porous materials!


  2. I love charity shops in the UK. I particularly like them for kids clothes, kids books, books…. and sometimes you can find a good item of clothing, you need to hunt hard but that’s part of the fun 🙂


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