Autism charity shop by Birmingham photographer Barry Robinson

Charity Shopping

When I was a kid the whole point of fashion wasn’t to have the most expensive shirt in the room. In some respects it was the opposite. Wearing something that everyone else could find, regardless of cost, diminished its intrinsic trend value.

Back then we shopped in small second hand stores, and gleaned odd pieces from  hidden rails, and there were some who’d go as far as to stash an article of clothing until they had the cash to pay for it, burying it amongst the lesser liked garments in some unfrequented part of the store. Of course this strategy seldom worked, unless it was to buy yourself half an hour to rush home and get the extra cash, or nip to the cash point.

Back then charity shops were run by kindly old women, and stocked either with atrocious combinations of hideous clothing, or incredible streetwear that if you were lucky and attractive, would get you into “that” club.

Today the world seems to have moved on a tad. Yes the charity shops still exist, but second hand has become vintage, and that’s become a label in it’s own right. Of course here I’m just talking about one of the aspects of second hand stores, clothing for a generation of kids who grew up without hope of employment and had to make the most of it.

While there was, and still is, a booming business what’s come to be known as “Pre loved” equipment, the bulk of day to day items are still dispatched into the world by charity shops, and this is at the heart of this piece.

Way back in my youth there was an unspoken [because it didn’t need to be said] contract that when the more affluent in the community gave away what they no longer wanted or needed that it wasn’t simply to benefit the charity the goods were donated to. It was so that the less well off might have some of those small luxuries at a reasonable price, while the charity made a small but significant profit from the sale.

Then the internet happened, along with eBay, and all those little gems suddenly had a ready market to for disposal. Charity chains like Oxfam began sorting donations into labels that they could sell through high end boutiques in the west end, and the rest that they could simply pass on to local consumers, and most of the other charity shops quickly followed suit. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an expose of any kind, you won’t find links to hard facts and statistics, just a simple truth we all know, and sometimes even laugh at when we see a new look jumper on sale in some high street charity store for more that it originally sold for.

Thankfully there are still a few shops left that do provide that community based service, and that springs immediately to mind is the “Autism Birmingham” shop of the Pershore Road.

Like all charity shops in a time of austerity it’s not in the best commercial location, but for me that’s a good thing! This is the kind of place where people come back, and the manager remembers who you are.

In short “Autism Birmingham” is one of the few remaining charity shops that still understands that charity is a concept that extends into the community, and isn’t just a source of income. Yes, of course they make money for their charity, but they do so by servicing a need in the local community, not by trying to a be boutique.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of love for a lot of little shops, but there are those who seem to think that charity is all about branding, but it’s actually the exact opposite that makes me go back here time and again, to donate, and to buy the occasional film.

At a pound a throw it’s cheaper than an Amazon rental, and you get to keep it for as long as you want before you give it back 🙂




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