Campaigning with charity shops

Re-posting a blog I wrote for Save the Children, published 8 August 2019: 

If you think charity shops are just a place to drop off unwanted clothes or pick up a bargain, think again.

Thousands of shoppers come through our doors every week with a fire in their bellies to change the world.

Our conversations on the shop floor suggest that, given the chance to take campaigning action to secure a better future for children across the world, the public will grab it with both hands.


Every time you buy something in a Save the Children shop, you’re helping to fund our life-changing work with children across the world.

Two thirds of the British public have ventured into a charity shop to donate clothes, and about half to buy something, according to the Charity Retail Association.

With so many people coming to visit us, our shops are much more than places to raise funds; they’re a gateway into our boundary-pushing campaigns.


A growing number of organisations are reimagining what a traditional high street shop is.

The Body Shop is repositioning their stores as centres for activism, and inviting customers to engage their voice, as well as wallet.

Visiting Lush’s HQ for an event about craftivism (that’s where crafts meet activism) felt more like stepping into non-profit than a place to buy a bath bomb.

We’re hearing exciting rumblings from charities too. CLIC Sargent recently gathered a huge 14,000 signatures from shop visitors for its petition for a teenage cancer travel fund.

Help Refugees’ pop-up shop invited Soho’s unexpecting window shoppers to buy an emergency blanket or school bag for a refugee, as an entry point to talk about their work across Europe and beyond.


The idea of shops as places to connect with causes isn’t new to Save the Children; it’s baked into the philosophy of our Mary’s Living & Giving shops.

These lovely shops were established with retail guru Mary Portas. She envisaged people stepping inside would find not only beautiful treasures, but purpose. Earlier this year, we tried something new to bring that vision to life.

As part of a major campaign to protect children in Yemen, we invited customers in fourteen of our shops to take action.

Over six weeks, we collected 1,200 hand-written messages of support from members of the public urging politicians to act to bring the humanitarian crisis to an end.

Shoppers also donated 3,000 pens, which were used in a stunt outside of Parliament, referencing the fact the UK government ‘holds the pen’ on Yemen at the United Nations.

Messages from customers were read out on Facebook Live, and given to Foreign Office officials. Local MPs visited shops and heard about the community’s response.

The depth of contact with the public was particularly striking: customers talked about the plight of children in Yemen for an estimated thirty-five hours. Until then, most had only vaguely heard of the conflict through a news headline, if at all.


All of this happened in just six weeks, across a fraction of our shops. The possibilities of full-blown community action hubs feel limitless. We will continue our experiments over the coming months and years.

We’d love to hear from others who are reimagining their retail spaces, and supporters with big ideas for their high street – so please get in touch.

Amanda joined her local shop to talk to customers about the campaign


A shop window shows a Yemen display
Our Fulham Road Mary’s Living and Giving shop highlight the conflict in Yemen with an eye-catching window display

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