Charity shop tales

Kelly is a volunteer at Hive where she helps with our fundraising. She has also worked in charity shops for the last 16 years. As part of the Worn Stories project she has recently been an interview subject as part of our oral history project. Here she writes about her experience of charity shop work and also of being interviewed for the project. The full interview will be transcribed and published on this blog. Many thanks Kelly for your contribution.

Rag pen, Cancer Research UK shop

‘I have worked on and off in charity shops since 2002, working for three major chains.  This has given me a broad knowledge of the industry, both chronologically and the variances between different charities in their business models.  From the pre-Ebay days to the ever-increasing pace of fast fashion.  From the gradual phasing out of selling video cassettes to now, the decline in the sales of DVDs.  I have covered most roles in that time, from till to sorter and have, to partly quote Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, seen things…  Some good, some utterly grim (most charity shops don’t have washing machines and not every donation contains washed clothes…).

Sorting desk and hanging rails, CRUK

The charity shop remains one of the most inclusive elements in society.  Everyone, regardless of skill set is welcome to work there.  Everyone, regardless of personal wealth is welcome to shop there.  They provide an affordable, ecological and personality-focused (rather than being one of the herd) environment in which to shop.  They provide skills and a network of support and companionship for the people who volunteer there.  We take pride in our shops and want them to be a vital part of the communities in which they trade.  I would love voluntary work to be a part of the curriculum in schools for 16-18-year olds – no two days are the same and there’s always something new to learn, be it “Is this artfully distressed or just ripped?” to “What’s this gizmo for?!”

Checking garments, CRUK

The [oral history] interview experience was lovely – everyone was really welcoming and put me at ease.  The questions were good – a broad range of topics.  I hope it gives a glimpse into the world of charity shops – from the treasure trove of donations to the cut-throat pirate attitude of some of the patrons.  From the people who will put a bit extra in the rattle tin to the sorts that would think nothing of ripping them from the chain on the counter.  From the woman who ran from the shop with an armful of babygros she had stolen under her arm – a example of disheartening, yet prevalent thievery – opportunism brought on by a lack of budget for security tags or a guard – to the gentleman who picks up pennies off the ground and presents them to us in a washed out coffee jar once it’s full.  The charity shop is where all walks of life pass through.  My life, certainly, would be poorer without them.’


Kelly’s oral history interview

Using our skills



Our popular Talking Textiles groups meet on Mondays at Hive and have been working on projects that explore a variety of creative textile techniques. These have all emphasised textile recycling, repair and reuse themes. They include traditional patchwork, creating and using t-shirt yarn (for crochet, knitting, rag rugging and weaving), using heat activated interfacing to create new textiles, printing and darning and mending skills. We have also encouraged discussion about the various  contemporary textile recycling industries and businesses in the city and learned about the heritage of the industry and workers from the 1880s onward. As well as these practical skills and heritage stories we have used the stories of significant textiles in our lives to reminisce. These stories evidence the power of textiles as a tool for community-based conversations about our own lives, the lives of our ancestors and the relevance to our community heritage.

We’ve recently challenged the group to use the many textile skills they have and that they have learned during the project to make a personal piece of work. The parameters of the challenge are that the piece is worked on a square of recycled blanket and that all the materials used must be reused or found in the Hive Textile Recycling Hub. Here are examples of some of the work in progress:


Lynda’s work focusses on the wellbeing benefits she gets from attending the project and the beauty to be found in broken or repaired textiles.


Lila is using a collection of crocheted, embroidered and tatted doilies donated to the recycling hub. She wants to celebrate the hours of work women put into these domestic items during the early and mid-twentieth century.


Muriel has been inspired by a collection of floral pieces of fabric from her own scrap bag and is working on a patched and appliqued mini-quilt.


Tess has challenged herself to make a patchwork using the English paper piecing technique with a sample of every piece of cloth that has been donated to the recycling hub since the beginning of the Worn Stories project.


Deb is exploring her new embroidery skills and is using yarn and fabric strips from the textile hub to create a densely worked ammonite on a wool background.