by Fiona McCade, in The Scotsman.com

Published on Thursday 2 August 2012 00:00


AS SOON as I saw it sitting in the window, gleaming, I knew it had to be mine. In fact, it had only been there about ten minutes, because the shop had just opened, so when I left clutching my prize, I felt like the early bird that got the fattest, juiciest worm she’d ever laid eyes on.


I’d managed to bag myself a brand-new, totally unused Le Creuset kettle. Normally, these retail for over £60, but I’d found mine in a charity shop and paid a mere tenner. To say I was thrilled is an understatement. Not since Aladdin found his lamp, not since Sir Galahad finally gazed upon the Grail, has anybody been so ecstatic.

I’ve always been a huge fan of charity shops – and even more so, now – but it still surprised me when Oxfam released its latest sales figures the other day. Online, and via its 700 shops, it made £90 million last year – an all-time record for the charity.

This news makes me almost as happy as the kettle does, because I’m hoping it signals a turning point in the way we think about shopping.

Charity shops are no longer just the places that ties go to die. In recent years, they’ve all upped their game – some of them have become extremely swish – and now I honestly think twice about shopping anywhere else.

Because charity shopping is a complete win-win situation, isn’t it? The donator feels good about themselves, the buyer gets a bargain and the charity gets to help those who need it.

Well, maybe it’s not such a winning formula for High Street retailers, but I have little sympathy for them. As I’ve said before, I believe the future of the whole planet depends on us recycling and if this recession forces us to do it, then it’s not such a bad thing after all.

For instance, the other week, I was in a famously cheap High Street store, looking for jeans. I was wanting to replace some lovely ones I bought there about three years ago. Until quite recently, this shop’s jeans were relatively good value; they didn’t fall apart and they didn’t break the bank. Now, however, the story is different. The jeans cost twice as much as they did in 2009 and seem to be made of rice paper. No way was I buying those.

So, as is my wont, I went to browse in some of the charity shops on Edinburgh’s South Bridge and lo – honestly, it was another Holy Grail moment. I swear, the rain clouds parted, angels sang and rays of golden light fell on the price tag – there was a pair of those very same three-year-old jeans, in my size, for less than the cost of an all-day bus ticket. Thank God it wasn’t the same day as the kettle experience, or I may have spontaneously combusted with joy.

I’ve never found any Mozart sheet music, or Ming vases, in my years of rummaging, but that doesn’t bother me. All I want is to give a pre-loved item another chance and to save money in the process. In my experience, the only thing you can’t buy in a charity shop is trousers for seven-year-old boys. It seems that such things are always, without exception, totally and utterly destroyed by their first owners, so they never make it to the haven of second-hand shops. But apart from that, so long as you’re prepared to hunt, you’ll find what you want eventually.

It’s early days yet, but I genuinely hope that this substantial growth in charity shop profits might be the first, tentative indication that the flow of instantly-available, utterly-disposable, over-advertised, mass-produced goods can be stemmed, if we can only change our buying habits in the long-term.

What’s also interesting is that in these supposedly straitened times, people are kindly donating enough stuff for Oxfam to sell £250,000 worth every day. If, in the middle of the worst economic climate of modern times, someone can afford to give away a shiny, new £60 kettle, rather than selling it on eBay, maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem.


Found this online, in my Scotsman.com newsletter. Felt it was well worth posting. Thrift stores/shops abound on both continents. Joan