charities and charity shops

charities and charity shops
   Traditionally, indeed legally, the qualification for charity status has involved the patronage of one or more of four areas; the advancement of education, the relief of poverty, the advancement of religion, or other purposes beneficial to the community. These principles were set out in 1891 and, although it is now accepted that charitable objectives alter over time, these four basic areas remain the foundations of most charitable institutions. Recent moves have suggested a widening of the definition to embrace some small shops and post offices in order to provide the benefits of charitable status and preserve essential services for rural villages: ‘The key to charity law is public benefit…. If rural communities can demonstrate that village shops play a vital part in an area of social and economic deprivation, we would be willing to consider registration of the organization promoting the package as charity’ (Framework for the Review of the Register of Charities 1998).
   Charity has become linked with popular culture via a number of routes. Perhaps the most popular manifestation of ‘charity consciousness’ was seen with the Band Aid phenomenon, although this was followed by a number of other attempts to make pop stars/glitterati seem more compassio-nate by supporting charitable causes. Usually these have focused on responses to particular events such as the tragedies at Dunblane (a reworking of the Bob Dylan song ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’) and the Bradford City Football Ground fire (as a response to that disaster, ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’, the most famous of all football anthems, was re-recorded by Gerry Marsden from Gerry and the Pacemakers, along with The Crowd, an all-star backing group). Perhaps the most successful example of this in terms of critical acclaim was the Help CD which was put out under the auspices of the Warchild charity. Warchild was set up by two film makers, Bill Leeson and David Wilson, after they witnessed the plight of children caught up in the war in former Yugoslavia and Help included works by artists including The Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, Blur, Paul McCartney, Brian Eno, Radiohead, Portishead and Massive Attack. While many of these popular developments may have begun as a charitable response, increasingly they came to be seen by many as a more cynical exploitation of the public and charity became perceived by some as a means of selling product (see for example the response of Leeds anarchists Chumbawumba, who, twelve years before their Warholian fifteen minutes of fame on the back of ‘Tubthumping’ (1997), released an LP entitled Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records). Notwith-standing this, the popular music/charity crossovers and in particular the Band Aid phenomenon have undoubtedly increased public consciousness of the plight of charities at a time when successive governments have attempted to shift the burden of charitable donations away from the state and onto the whim of the individual. Every high street now contains its share of charity shops offering mainly second-hand but also new goods. The benefits for charities are that shops provide an outlet for goods donated by the public and are staffed by volunteers; costs are thus minimized. A key factor in the rise of charity shops has been the availability of retail units in the high street, caused in part by the shift towards out-oftown shopping facilities. The revenue from such shops should not be underestimated. In 1993–4 the Oxfam shops raised over £17m, which amounted to more than 25 percent of the charity’s total income. The original Oxfam shop was established in 1947, in Broad Street, Oxford, acting as a sorting centre for clothing donated for a national ‘Appeal for Europe’. The spin-off was to establish a gift shop which resold the donated goods that were of no direct use to those overseas; in its first full financial year, the shop raised £650. In 1960 a second shop was opened, and in the following year the two shops raised a combined total of £38,695. By 1971 Oxfam had 310 shops operating, with the number rising to over 850 in the 1990s; there are now specialist furniture and book shops. A further approach has been to develop the sales of new products (such as nuts, jams, coffees, teas and hand-crafted goods such as baskets and ceramics) on the basis of the Fair Trade programme with Third World producers. Oxfam has clearly followed retailing and marketing trends, seeking to maintain its position as brand leader against increasing competition from other charities which have similarly sought to exploit the retail possibilities.
   A further link between charity and popular culture can be seen in the way in which the perception of charity shops changed and became fashionable when pop music icons such as Morrissey (once of Mancunian legends The Smiths) and Jarvis Cocker (Pulp) flaunted the fact that they shopped for many of their clothes at charity shops, beginning what might be called an ‘Oxfam chic’ that was adopted by students and fashion victims throughout the country. This has now been exploited by the charity, which has started to extract the more soughtafter clothes and sell these in a specialist outlet, following the examples of books and furniture.
   See also: Band Aid
   Further reading
    Raphael, T. and Roll, J. (1984) Carrying the Can: Charity and the Welfare State, London: London Family Welfare Association.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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