Where Catherine Hatch goes, order follows.
As she leads me up the stairs and through the back rooms of the Oxfam charity shop she runs on Ecclesall Road, I’m amazed by the lack of clutter.
There are no piles of clothes on the stairs and no black bags stuffed with bric-a-brac on the floor. In the stock room, I see organised rails of carefully steamed clothes and boxes of labelled items waiting to be shipped down to the shop floor. It’s clear to see, this place is a well-oiled machine.
“It has to be,” Catherine explains.
“We have so much stock coming in the door every single week, if we weren’t organised, we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs.
“I want my volunteers to feel valuable, to be able to come for a few hours a week, take on a job and see the contribution they’ve made. They can’t do that if they’re spending all their times trying to make sense of things.”
Long gone are the days when charity shops were just glorified jumble salesCatherine Hatch
Catherine has run the Sheffield shop - one of six in the city - for the past 11 years. And if you haven’t set foot in a charity shop in the past ten years, you don’t know what you’re missing. Gone are the little old ladies with blue rinses working their way along crowded rails, fingering faded and out-dated clothing. Gone is the smell of mothballs and the board games with a half dozen missing pieces. Instead I see a pair of students hunting for treasure in the clothing section (is that Prada?!) while a father and daughter are browsing books in the corner and a middle-aged woman is eyeing up a beautiful china set on display in a nearby glass cabinet.
“Charity shops are no longer glorified jumble sales,” says Catherine, aged 59.
“Our main demographic are females aged 18 to 40, and so we’ve given our shops much more of a boutique feel; we have to compete with all the other shops on the high street.”
And clearly her team is doing something right. Last year, the shop had a net income of £84,000, with every penny of it going directly to Oxfam causes.
“Whether you donate items, or visit the shop as a customer, you are contributing directly to an important global charity,” says Catherine.
“We’re in a great location here so we get really fantastic donations - designer clothing, great books, valuable jewellery - and the pricing structure we use reflects the quality of the items we receive. Everything that comes to us is carefully sorted, so you’ll never find a designer dress with the same price on it as a Primark dress. We’ve had Jimmy Choo shoes and Alexander McQueen suits and two of my volunteers have even been married in wedding dresses that were donated!
“Last week we sold two gold chains for almost £800 - people are really very kind.”
The store also has an impressive turnover of new stock and very little waste. Statistics have shown that items are most likely to sell in the first four days, so items only stay on the shop floor for two weeks before being culled and, either sent on to a different Oxfam shop, or to the charity’s own redistribution plant in Batley. Even items that can’t be sold, because they’re damaged or stained, are sent to women’s group in Senegal, where they are repaired and then sold at market.
And next week, the store will truly burst into the 21st century as its launches its online shop.
Catherine adds: “There are about 700 Oxfam shops in this country and around 400 of these already have online shops, including two in Sheffield that are running very successfully. 59.000 customers a week already shop with Oxfam in the UK, spending an average of £33 each time they visit. We’ve been selling items on Ebay for a while so the shop was the next step.
“We’re still going to give everything a good viewing on the shop floor first, but then, if they haven’t sold, we’ll put them in our online shop to reach a wider audience and give us the best chance of getting a good price for them.
“The great thing about the online shop is the reach it will give us. Rather than just people who visit us on Ecclesall Road, we’ll be able to reach everyone, everywhere. You’ll be able to search our stock the same way you can at any other online store.”
Catherine also admits that she never shops anywhere else, and that many of the volunteers pick up some great bits in store after their shift.
“We don’t get first dibs,” smiles Cathine.
“Everything goes on to the shop floor and we don’t discount for staff. Everything’s already a bargain!”
Catherine has a staff of around 25 volunteers who work with her every single week in the Sheffield shop - but admits she could use twice as many and is always on the lookout for people to get involved.
“We like to empower our volunteers,” says Catherine, who started as a volunteer herself 22 years ago when she was a stay-at-home mum.
“When someone offers their services, I want to find out what they’re interested in - whether it’s managing the clothes, or the books, or being a part of our new online team, photographing and listing items.”
Visit Oxfam to find out more about the work Oxfam does, or call 114 268 2893 for details on volunteering.