Scotland’s oldest charity shop

Neil gascoyne 1

TFN visits the Thrift Shop in Edinburgh, which has been raising funds for Birthlink for more than 60 years

27th September 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Charity shops have been a British institution for more than a century.

One of the first charity shops recorded in history was founded by the Wolverhampton Society for the Blind in 1899, and sold goods to raise funds for the blind in the local area.

However it was during the Second World War that stores began to become more commonplace, with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army the first charities to open multiple stores. Two wars in quick succession saw the donating and selling of clothes to help address the poverty – both at home and abroad - that followed.

Modern charity shops as we know them – retail units selling overwhelmingly donated goods to raise as much cash as possible for the parent charity – did not appear until after the war, with Oxfam opening its first store in London in 1947.

The oldest charity shop in Scotland is understood to be the Thrift Shop in Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh.

The shop has benefitted adoption charity Birthlink since 1957, however originally operated from a basement flat in nearby Darnaway Street for two years prior.

The shop’s manager Neil Gascoyne told TFN: “The charity has been going for over 100 years, and was known as the Guild of Service and then Family Care before being called Birthlink. The shop was always known as the Thrift Shop and has never been known as a charity shop as such, I’m not sure why.”

The shop still has several customers who bought items in its early years, and has become an institution in Bruntsfield. The Thrift Shop is now almost unique in serving as a traditional bric-a-brac store – and is refusing to be dragged into the 21st century.

“We have not modernised a great deal, we are now accepting card payments though!,” said Gascoyne.

“A lot of our customers have been coming here since we opened.

“One of our office workers, who was previously a social worker, grew up across the road from the shop and remembers coming here as a little girl. It really hasn’t changed much since then.”

In the sixties, young people had more money than before and had a new found interest in fashion. Vintage clothes became more attractive as people developed their individual styles, and this led to an increase in charity clothing stores.

It was in the 1980s that the current culture of throwaway items was first seen, meaning that charity shops had a wider range of items than before. However it was not until the 21st century that the big charities began to take over multiple units on the high street.

But is there still a place for traditional offerings like The Thrift Shop? Gascoyne said the shop operates as a service promoting the work of Birthlink, alongside aiming to boost the small charity’s funds, and the store prides itself on being able to accept almost any donations, no matter how bizarre they are.

Gascoyne added: “We are not a trendy charity. A lot of the people wouldn’t know anything about Birthlink were it not for our two shops. A lot of people also wouldn’t be aware that we are an adoption charity without the shops. It’s nice to have our places where we can have an informal chat with people about the organisation.”