This case study was produced for NCVO’s BIG Assist programme.
Southend Association of Voluntary Services (SAVS ) is a Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) in Southend-on-Sea. We began in 1980 and are fortunate to have a large building in the town centre which we lease from Southend council for a peppercorn rent. We hire out conference rooms and office accommodation to other voluntary and community groups.
The issues we faced
As an infrastructure charity SAVS has received solid support from Southend council towards our core costs. However, with the ongoing cuts to public sector funding we are concerned that this support may have to reduce in years to come. Our current service level agreement (SLA) ends in March 2015 and we want to ensure we have alternative sources of income to support us if our local authority funding does reduce.
The actions we took
The idea of setting up a charity shop emerged from a budget planning meeting when we were horizon scanning and feeling very gloomy about the future economic climate.
We agreed we needed to develop our commercial activities to bring in our own income, and that this would help us continue to run the core services we provide to our members.
Our first challenge was to decide where the charity shop should be. Should we operate on the high street, in a deprived area or a more wealthy area?
Upon reflection the answer was rather obvious! We had our own shop window just off the high street, a couple of doors down from a very successful charity shop run by the local hospice.
This meant a complete refurbishment of our downstairs offices, moving the volunteer centre, reception and some tenants around the building. It was quite an undertaking and unsettling at times for the staff being rehoused.
The next challenge was to raise money to pay for the refurbishment. We also had the bright idea to provide volunteering opportunities for people furthest away from employment, for example ex-offenders, so funding for this was also required.
Fortunately after several funding bids we did secure sufficient funds to pay for the refurb and enough to start up the employment project.
Following a couple of meetings with the shopfitters, the work started in March 2013 and within ten days everything was complete. Our new shop manager set about recruiting a team of volunteers and sourcing donations.
We had a soft launch and opened our doors in April. Business was surprisingly brisk and has continued to be steady in subsequent months.
A public launch took place the following June which enabled us to launch our Charity of the Month initiative. We wanted our members to benefit from the shop too so we allocated a section of the shop to another charity each month – it provides the donations and we do the rest.
We take a small commission but everything else it raises goes to them. This helps give the shop a higher profile as the well-known public facing charities raise the awareness.
It is early days and there is a long way to go but so far the shop has been a great success!
The location is crucial – we were lucky we had a ready-made venue in a perfect location. The physical changes to the building meant we had to move offices and people around, some people found this unsettling. We tried to mitigate this by involving the staff and volunteers at the very outset to explain our vision and gain their input. This ensured everyone understood why we were making the change and bought into the idea.
Ideally we would have spent more time sourcing stock before we opened but we were paying a shop manager and needed to start trading as soon as possible to offset his salary costs. However, the volume of stock has been sufficient so far.
It is really too early to say what the financial impact will be. It will take time to build up the customer base. However, we now have two ex-offenders volunteering in the shop and they are gaining more confidence and benefiting from their experience. One of our volunteers, who came to us via the Jobcentre on a programme, has now found work managing her own charity shop and says her experience of volunteering in ours was instrumental to her in securing her new role.
A full writeup of the official opening of the charity shop can be found on the SAVS website.