Sunday, March 25, 2007



Famous for his whimsical morning contributions to BBC Radio 4’s "Thought for the Day", well-known broadcaster, Rabbi Lionel Blue recently expressed his passion for charity shops. "I’m addicted," he said "Can’t pass by – just have to wander in – and rarely come out without some treasure!"

Lots of other folk love them, too and support the aid they give to people desperately in need in countries worldwide. It’s 60 years since the first Oxfam shop opened in Broad Street, Oxford, although the idea was conceived in 1942. This was when the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief was established. It wasn’t until 1963 that the committee shortened its name to Oxfam – it’s old telegraph address. Now there are more than 800 Oxfam shops in England, one of which has been at 45 Billericay High Street for many years.
There are five more charity shops in the High Street: Hamelin Trust at No 16, Barnado’s at No 35, Cancer Research at No 123, Sense at No 119 and Marie Curie Cancer Care at No 130. Little is written about the tremendous work carried out by charity shop volunteers. Always cheerful, they turn up on time and work their rota, receiving the bags of new and second-hand clothes, books and household merchandise. They steam, mend, and make the goods more presentable for customers. Often, their expertise in a particular job, such as the former librarian who can detect a valuable second-hand book or the ex-jeweller who spots the true value of an antique ring can be of assistance to the manager of a charity shop.

"I love my work," a volunteer said recently. "When I retired a few years ago, I missed the companionship of working with people - this job has given me the chance of doing something useful. I like helping customers who come in and having a good chat as they seek their bargain!"
Although these days charity shops are now bright, clean and more upmarket than those of years ago – and their turnover has increased - some staff have experienced the odd theft, unfortunate when the shop’s aim is to help the underprivileged.
"Just before Christmas, we found some valuable ornaments had been removed from the shelf," said one shop manager "A rotten thing to happen, as the thieves obviously knew their value." On checking with other charity shops, sadly this isn’t an isolated incident and in one case, a designer wedding-dress was whipped off the shop dummy in seconds. Staff are now especially vigilant.

As part of their spring promotions, Marie Curie’s manager, Chris Bartley and her staff are currently preparing to launch their "Great Daffodil Appeal" on Saturday 10 March. Golden balloons, sweets and of course daffodils are at the ready. "We’re looking forward to welcoming customers, old and new, and hope we can also attract more volunteers," said Chris.

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