Charity shops have struck a deal with a leading youth programme to help fill up to 95,000 volunteer roles as the sector recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.
Teenagers could help plug a temporary gap in volunteers as shops start reopening their doors, and if enough come forward they could speed up the sector’s recovery and help more shops open sooner.
The National Citizen Service (NCS) is partnering with charity shops for the first phase of its One Million Hours of Doing Good campaign, which will encourage those aged 16-18 to transform their “summer of disappointment” through volunteering.
It estimates around 100,000 teenagers could engage with the programme, based on the uptake of previous schemes, but hopes more will take part given the disruption of normal activities.
The charity sector has been badly hit by the Covid-19 outbreak, with shops in the UK losing around £3.4 million in sales a day for their parent charities.
England’s 9,500 charity shops are expected to face a double whammy of increased donations and a diminished volunteer base as they begin their staggered reopening from June 15.
The Charity Retail Association (CRA) fears up to half of volunteers may be unable to return immediately, due to shielding, public transport struggles and feeling unable to leave the house during the pandemic.
Currently around 17% of charity shop volunteers in the UK are under 25.
The average charity shop relies on around 20 voluntary staff, and assuming half of them are unable to resume duties immediately that leaves up to 95,000 unfilled roles across England.
CRA chief executive Robin Osterley said it is the first recruitment drive specifically targeted at young people.
He told the PA news agency: “Young people have a genuine sense of what is right and what is good, and I think it will be something they will jump at.
“Before Covid hit us, I believe there was a real zeitgeist happening in terms of people shopping more ethically – ‘I would rather have the profits of my purchase go to a good cause’.
“We were definitely seeing a big appetite for shopping in charity shops amongst younger people developing, and I think this is a great opportunity for young people to engage with that agenda and do some good, alongside our existing valued volunteers.”
Archie Mortimer, 16, is facing a summer of boredom after his GCSEs were cancelled. He also missed out on two weeks of work experience.
The teenager from Fulham, west London, plans to volunteer at a nearby Oxfam shop over the summer before he returns to school for A-levels.
His mother, Tamsin, has been seeking out voluntary opportunities but found many barred to her son because he is under 18.
Archie told PA: “I’m getting a bit of schoolwork but there’s nothing really to do, I’m just sitting around the house doing nothing.
“All the days are rolling into one at the moment, so it’s just something to do, get out of bed for, that could be quite exciting and fun.
“I have talked to a few friends about it, and they’ve said they’d be interested because they are just like me, they are quite bored and want something to do.”
Ms Mortimer, 45, added: “Most people need kids to be 18, so it was really hard finding something for him to do.
“It would be really nice for them, and until they do it I don’t think they’ll really appreciate the feeling of giving something back.”
The NCS said 44% of 1,032 16-17-year-olds they surveyed in April said they were desperate to support their communities but did not know how to get involved.
From June 8, they will be able to sign up at the NCS to help their local charity shop.
NCS Trust CEO Mark Gifford said more than 600,000 young people have engaged with its online Stay Connected hub, launched in April as part of an alternative to its usual residential programme.
He said: “The age barrier of being under 18 should not hold back this huge group of young national citizens who are ready to play a valuable role in our country’s recovery.
“With many young people missing out on their planned work experience, volunteering will also provide an alternative route to develop essential life skills that can’t be learnt in a classroom environment.
“NCS will enable 16 and 17-year-0lds to turn a summer of disappointment and restrictions into a summer of ‘No We Can’.”