You might have heard on the grapevine that at Mencap we are opening some brand new charity shops. The good news is, we are! I have worked in retail for nearly 20 years, and I can safely say I have never worked on a project as exciting as this one. As Mencap’s Head of Retail, it’s an honour to bring some new charity shops to life, raise some vital funds, and help people with a learning disability live life as they choose.

So how did this all start?

Well, during a review of Mencap’s finances, it was decided that we would open a chain of charity shops. These shops would create a stable and steady income for Mencap, to help us continue to support people with a learning disability. Charity shops also raise awareness of learning disability within the local area, and provide job and volunteering opportunities for local people. (I used to work at another charity, so this plan meant a new job for me too!)

Once we decided to take the plunge and open some shops, it was time to get cracking. We have found some units in a few towns across England (including Bury, Derby, Wakefield, Great Yarmouth and Bradford), and they will be the first to open this autumn. Once we have a few successful shops under our belt, we’ll start rolling them out across the UK. The plan is to open 130 stores in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by 2022 - busy busy!

The process

The process of opening a new store is really exciting. Once we have found a unit, and made sure it’s in a good location, our Property team contacts the agents to begin the process of securing the property (which can be similar to buying a house). Once we have agreed everything with the landlord, our building surveyor then visits the store with me and we agree the layout and what the shop will look like, before inviting three building companies to plan what needs doing. Once the builders have completed their work, we then start bringing in the stock and merchandise ready for opening. During this time we also recruit for new staff, training them up to work in the store. This whole process - from finding a shop to opening - can take some time; we usually aim for within 12 weeks.

Our stores

One of the most exciting things about Mencap’s new shops is that they won’t be just like any other charity shops. We are opening stores in three different formats; donation stations, standard stores and discount stores.

Our Donation Station stores will be located in areas where it is easy for people to donate. Next to big supermarkets with big car parks, for example. Easy to pop a bag full of goodies in the boot and drop it off before doing the weekly shop. As well as serving customers who pop in for a bargain, the staff and volunteers in Donation Stations will sort through all the stock that has been kindly donated, and send it to Mencap shops around the country.

Standard stores will be, well, standard! Just like any other charity shops, our Standard Stores will be located within local communities where people will find it easy to donate, shop and volunteer. These stores will sell a whole range of items including ladies and men’s wear, children’s clothes, toys, bric-a-brac, entertainment, cards and flowers.

Finally our discount stores will be located on high streets in town centres, and these stores will sell lower quality stock that has been sent from the donation station and stock that did not sell in our standard stores. By using these three formats we can make sure every donated item is given the best chance to sell, and reduces any waste.

Exciting stuff!

I really enjoy opening new stores and have been involved in many new store openings in my retail career. It’s a great feeling to be handed a completely empty unit, filling it with stock and then throwing open the doors to the public. Knowing that all the money raised goes towards supporting people with a learning disability makes it all even more satisfying.

P.S. Keep up to date with the opening of our new shops on the Mencap website, and if you’re in the area, why not pop in for a browse?

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