Reliance on older volunteers means shops will close
Charity shops could start closing across the UK because of their reliance on older volunteers.
The trade body for the sector warned that “quite substantial numbers” could close amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Charity Retail Association chief executive Robin Osterley said its members were facing staffing issues as the elderly make up a large proportion of its volunteer workforce.
He said the “knock-on effect” of the closures would be charities losing out on “substantial” sums of money, which could also impact service users in the long run.
“The biggest issue for our members right now is staffing, because we rely heavily on volunteers in this sector,” Osterley, whose organisation represents 9000 charity shops across 400 different charities, said.
“A lot of them are elderly and they are now thinking that they should be staying at home.
“I think there is potential for shops to have to close, possibly in quite substantial numbers over the next few weeks.”
Closures would not only take place to protect the health of staff but also because there would not be enough staff to keep the shops open.
Although closures were likely to be temporary, he added: “Clearly there are risks for all those involved.”
Charity shops are also facing a challenging time trading through a reduction in footfall on the high street, but Osterley said it was “not a huge issue” at this stage.
The sector, which has a volunteer workforce of about 230,000 people, generates around £320 million per year for various charities, he said.
“These are very substantial sums, and there is a good chance they will be compromised this year,” Osterley said.
“The knock-on effect is that the most vulnerable people in society, and animals, will be negatively impacted by this.”
The association will be asking the government to provide assistance to the charity sector, which has about 11,500 shops in the UK.
On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the public to stop all “non-essential contact” in a bid to slow the virus’ spread.
All people should avoid gatherings and crowded places, while people who are vulnerable – including those who are elderly – will be asked by the weekend to stay at home for 12 weeks, he said.