Volunteering at a charity shop: what’s it like?

01 Jun 2018
By Sarah R., Student at University of Edinburgh

You may think there’s no point doing work that doesn’t involve earning money. It’s a waste of time, right? Wrong. Volunteering opportunities are sometimes just as beneficial as going to class.

We all know it can be hard to find a part-time job and most people think that’s the only way employers will take an interest in you. But what do you do if you just can’t get the ball rolling? Think about volunteering instead.

It was one of the most valuable experiences that I have had to date.

I used to volunteer at my local Cancer Research UK shop, and I can honestly say it was one of the most valuable experiences that I have had to date.

Here’s how to get involved and what to expect.

Find the right charity for you

First, decide what charity you want to help out at. Is there a particular charity you care strongly about? Or do you just want to give your time to a local cause that needs you?

Once you’ve decided, simply find your nearest store and ask them if you can volunteer. Nine times out of 10, they’ll be delighted to have you. They’ll either ask you to fill out a simple form in-store, or point you to an online version.

Need inspiration? Here’s a list of the biggest charity shop retailers in the UK.

Fit your hours in around uni work

You’ll be pleased to know that, unlike normal part-time jobs, your working hours in a charity shop are completely flexible - perfect for student schedules.

Exams coming up? Working to a deadline? All you have to do is let the store manager know when you are available and you’re good to go. But remember, it’s helpful to let them know early if you won’t be able to work as the manager will need to arrange cover.

It was one of the most valuable experiences that I have had to date.
Consider starting off with a four hour shift at the weekend, and building from there if you have time.

Meet new people to have a cuppa with

Shifts go by extremely quickly and you’ll gain invaluable experience working within the retail sector - something that will come in handy if you need to move into paid part-time work.

A typical working day in a charity shop will involve:

  • serving customers, which is great till and cash-handling experience
  • pricing and tagging items in the stockroom, a good admin skill for your CV
  • making sure customers are greeted by your smiley face
  • having numerous tea and cake breaks with your new colleagues (what more could you ask for?)

Don’t worry if your volunteering isn’t directly relevant to your chosen career. Think of what it says to a potential employer that you’re willing to give up your time for a cause you believe in - as well as all the social benefits that come from your charitable nature.

You can find a variety of volunteering opportunities on your university careers website, and on the ‘get involved’ sections of charity websites.

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Sarah is studying MSc Environmental Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh.