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Number of charity shop volunteers falls by 45,000 since start of pandemic

27 Jul 2021 News

Charity shops are struggling because the number of people volunteering has dropped by 45,000 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Charity Retail Association (CRA).

The CRA estimates that volunteer numbers are down by 20% compared with 2019, which has left some shops struggling to deal with rising donations and sales as Covid-19 restrictions lift.

It has called on more volunteers to come forward and fill the gap.


The CRA said that around 233,000 people volunteered at charity shops before the pandemic struck. Feedback from its members suggest that this number is now down by at least 20%, with many shops “struggling” to replace volunteers who have not returned after lockdown.

Robin Osterley, the chief executive of the CRA, said: “Charity retail staff and volunteers have worked with great energy, enthusiasm and creativity to ensure that charity shops have bounced back strongly from the enforced closure during the lockdown. 

“Consequently, many charity shops are now outperforming the level of sales achieved pre-Covid, which is an incredible achievement given the many challenges presented by the pandemic.

“Based on feedback from our members, we estimate that charity shops are operating with at least 20% fewer volunteers than before the pandemic. 

“This is potentially causing an issue in their ability to respond to the great demand for their services.”

Many volunteers ‘yet to return’

After the first lockdown last year, the CRA advised its members to “gauge the likelihood” of shop volunteers returning, given the possibility that older volunteers in particular may have been shielding or could have been taken ill.  

Osterley said: “Many charity shop volunteers from before the pandemic are yet to return, but we are hopeful the number of volunteers returning will rise as the pandemic eases. 

“Health concerns are a major factor for those who are yet to return to charity shop volunteering, especially those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. 

“Also, for some volunteers, the closure of charity shops saw them taking on alternative volunteering opportunities or other new activities which they have decided to continue with for the time being.”

He added that “it will take time to catch up with the volunteer recruitment” when shops have been closed for such long periods.

Sign up

The CRA has called for potential volunteers to find vacancies using a new online platform, provided by the tech company Wil-U. The CRA first partnered with Wil-U last summer.

Osterley said: “With the growing public interest in reuse, now is a great time to volunteer in a charity shop and to be part of a great team raising money for charities, helping the environment by promoting reuse and bringing a real buzz and sense of community back to our high streets.” 

He called on volunteers to sign up online or speak to a team at a local shop.

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