After three months of lockdown, thousands of non-essential shops and department stores have finally started to reopen and our high streets are slowly starting to come back to life.

In this article we explore what charity shops (an essential source of many charities' incomes) should be doing before and when reopening their doors, as well as looking at how the charity sector in general can be using digital to help recover from COVID-19. 

(1) Charity shops

What guidance is available specifically for charity shops?

Alongside the Government guidance, the Charity Retail Association has also now produced its own guidance pack for charity shops.

The Government's guidance

The Government's latest guidance has been updated following input and feedback from various bodies, including both trade organisations and individual retailers. That guidance helpfully expands on the specific measures which retailers may wish to consider in their planning and preparation for re-opening. Examples include:

  • Measures to enable staff to work in separate and distinct teams or partnerships, to reduce the number of people that they are in regular and maintained contact with
  • Measures to manage traffic and queuing in communal areas in shopping centres and similarly in shopping precincts, bearing in mind that many shops will need to implement some form of queueing system to control the numbers in-store at any one time
  • Encouraging consumers not to handle products while they are browsing
  • Encouraging customers to shop alone where at all possible
  • Fitting rooms should remain closed wherever possible, given the challenges involved in operating these safely. Where trying on is permitted, customer assistance by staff should be curtailed
  • Storing returned items for 72 hours or ensuring they are cleaned before returning them to the shop floor
  • Covering furniture items with protective coverings and either cleaning these or replacing them on a regular basis i.e. after customers have tried the products out
  • Cleaning customer touchpoints after each use
  • The addition of a much more detailed section on workforce management, covering shift patterns and staff grouping or team arrangements, communications and training among other issues.

The expanded guidance has drawn on the experience of those essential retail stores open throughout the pandemic, coupled with additional insight and thoughts from those in the process of planning to reopen.

It is important that charity shops follow the guidance, not least to ensure the safety of its staff and customers, but also in light of the Government's announcement that it will work with the HSE and local authorities to carry out spot checks on retailers and to follow up on concerns raised by members of the public.

The guidance is available here for you to read.

The Charity Retail Association's reopening pack

The Charity Retail Association updated and published its guidance on 27 May.

The pack is split into three sections, providing guidance on the physical bricks and mortar space, staff, customer and other people issues, and commercial issues. As well as setting out what the mandatory risk assessment must cover, it includes a basic risk assessment template, to serve as a guide on issues to consider. Helpfully the guidance is clearly colour-coded with mandatory steps in red, strongly recommended steps in amber, and other recommended steps in green. This approach makes it very easy for charity shops to "pick and mix" parts from the guidance to tailor it to suit the shop-specific environment.

The guidance covers practical considerations for shops to look at, such as:

  • Staff/volunteer availability, given that there may be ongoing issues around shielding and self-isolation
  • Stock and storage availability, given that stock donations are expected to be very high when shops first reopen
  • Shop profitability and location/size when determining which shops to reopen first
  • Guidance on checking and testing fire safety and other equipment
  • Disposal of rubbish/donations which have been piled up, unsorted, outside shops during lockdown and which pose an environment or health risk
  • How to receive, sort and store donations once reopened – this includes re-iterating Government advice on isolating donations received for 72 hours before it is put on display on the shop floor to reduce the risk of contamination
  • How to make the best use of space when dealing with donations, including encouraging donors to phone ahead of bringing their donations in, to ensure sufficient space is always available, and ensuring delivery/collection drivers remain safe
  • How to communicate with shop staff and volunteers in advance of reopening, including recruitment of new volunteers, and how to deal with potential staff shortages
  • On-going operational matters, such as ensuring continuity of donations after the initial flurry of activity and use of social media to publicise the reopening and encourage consumers to re-engage with their local charity shops.

The pack is available here for you to read.

The pack, combined with the Government's guidance referred to above, should help charity shops to not only implement the required COVID-19 secure measures, but also to engage with customers on the steps being taken in advance of re-opening, enhancing customer and donor confidence.

(2) Digital

A free online checklist has been published as part of the Charity Digital Code of Practice to help charity trustees and leaders with the decisions they need to make about digital during and coming out of the pandemic.

The checklist has been published in response to the Charity Digital Skills Report 2020 which found that one in three charities have cancelled services during the COVID-19 crisis due to a lack of digital skills.

The checklist covers the following topics:

1. Remote working

This section encourages charities to reflect on what they have learned following the implementation of their continuity plans and remote working set ups. Charities should be asking how they can be more agile through use of digital.

2. Services

This section sets out issues that charities should consider irrespective of whether they have already shifted their services online or are planning to do so.

3. People

Staff and volunteers will need extra support to develop the confidence, skills and motivation needed as your charity becomes more reliant on digital. Ways in which you could do this are set out in this section of the checklist.

4. Fundraising

Charity fundraising has been hit hard by the economic impact of the virus, and many organisations will be ramping up their digital fundraising. Are your terms and conditions fit for purpose, do you have adequate security…? There will be many issues to think through here, which are set out in this section of the checklist. 

5. Governance

This section helps charities to reflect on how they are changing their governance processes to facilitate the quick decision making needed through use of digital and media.

6. Strategy

With digital likely to now be a key part of how many charities deliver their vision and mission, this section encourages charities to consider how they are keeping in touch with donors, stakeholders and beneficiaries.

You can access the checklist here.

Any questions about any of the above, please do get in touch.