Where we work
Our annual report
Each year, around 100 people give up their time and energy as volunteers to keep open Concern's seven second-hand shops in Northern Ireland. They come from all walks of life – students, a retired insurance broker, a PhD history researcher, a former civil servant and a Spanish teacher, among others.
But they all have one thing in common – their motivation to support the work of Concern. On top of that, they benefit from meeting others, learning new skills and the routine it brings to their week.
Gerardine: "You feel you're doing something useful"
A year ago, Gerardine Sloan decided that after retiring from her job, she would "like to do something useful and give something back", which led her to volunteer one morning a week in the Concern shop on Belfast’s Ormeau Road.
A typical shift comprises of sorting through recently donated stock, steaming clothes to go onto the rails and removing items that have been on display for a few weeks. She also works on the till and helps customers to find what they are looking for.
It is an experience that has rewarded her with new skills, and insights into how charity shops work. On a personal level, volunteering brings a sense of fulfilment.
I really enjoy it. I've got something specific to do one day a week. I've made friends with all the other staff...Your own social skills improve, your self-esteem, your self-confidence. I would recommend it to anyone because I just have been so glad that I've done it.
The first thing that Gerardine does on her shift is to take a few moments to familiarise herself with the window display. That way, if a customer comes in off the street having spotted something in the window, she knows exactly what they are talking about.
A good display can make all the difference. One time, Gerardine tells us, a woman saw an expensive Dolce and Gabbana jacket on display while passing the shop on a bus. She reserved the jacket by phone and called in the following day to buy it for her mum. Second-hand shops are a great way to get a bargain.
People obviously realise that even though they are expensive items, they are worth it and are willing to pay for them. And the charity benefits from that.
And that's proved true over the years, with two of our original shops in Ballycastle, Co Antrim, and Newcastle, Co Down, raising more than £2 million in donations for the work of Concern since they opened - one in the early-'80s, the other at the start of the '90s.
Another important aspect for Gerardine is the value of recycling things. She believes that fast fashion "is really dreadful in terms of the environment" and that charity shops are an important and sustainable way to reduce waste.
I think it's important that things should be recycled. If you finish using them, you run out of taste with them, someone else might enjoy it and get some wear out of it.
Neil: "I go home feeling very happy"
Neil Hughes is one of our longer-serving volunteers, who regularly devotes three days a week to work in one of our two second-hand bookshops - in Holywood, Co Down. An avid bookworm, it all began for Neil four years ago when he visited the shop, firstly as a customer to add to his collection and then to donate books he wanted to pass on to others.
From my visits, I thought, "This is a really good place...I could work here." And because of my interest in books, I believed I could make a positive contribution to the charity.
One of the benefits of volunteering is a sense of "extreme satisfaction", according to Neil, at seeing books coming off the shelves and going out the door to loving owners.
On top of that, meeting people face-to-face is what draws him to the job.
I could be not here two or three days a week and maybe feeling a wee bit out of sorts. And after my first shift, I can go home feeling very happy and very pleased with myself. I've had a good afternoon...and I've had interaction with a lot of customers who've left, hopefully with a smile on their face.
Over the years, our Holywood bookshop volunteers have received some special donations - among them, a collection of framed U2 CDs and album covers, concert programmes, and tickets donated by a close friend of the band.
The shop has also sold a number of rare first-editions, such as the Harry Potter series, and two volumes of The Tomb of Tutankhamun, which recently fetched £800 at auction.
We receive a lot of books from people who are aware of their value and know that there are perhaps some gems in what they are giving us. Fortunately, we have a volunteer called Terry who is happy to spend time valuing such books, and we're grateful to him for that.
Pat: "I find volunteering very rewarding"
Pat Magee volunteers two or three days a week at our shop on Belfast's Ormeau Road which he describes as "a fantastic experience".
After retiring a few years ago, Pat felt he wanted to contribute to the work of Concern and do something for his own personal development. Not only has he learned new skills, but it has helped him pick up old ones again - such as communication techniques and interacting with the public.
I find volunteering very rewarding, very motivational, great interaction with my colleagues, and in terms of the customers coming in and the relationships you build up with them. And then there's also the wider work of Concern in terms of what you’re doing to contribute to its work across the world.
Another big motivation is that charity shops are the perfect place to save money. And that is important in a cost-of-living crisis when many people are finding it tough to get by. There is also the benefit of playing a part in recycling and "contributing to the wider green agenda and sustainability", says Pat.
You see what's happening currently in Pakistan with the floods as a result of climate change. In our own way, if we recycle as much as we can, then there's less waste. I see us very much at the centre of all of that.
The location of our shop on Belfast's Ormeau Road - a main thoroughfare in and out of the city centre - means that it is visible to a lot of people, and well-known within the community. And that is a big advantage when we launch emergency humanitarian appeals.
Pat says that it is not unusual for people to come in off the street and donate money at times like that. He recalls one occasion when a man handed over an envelope stuffed with money that he and his friends had saved over a few weeks. When Pat counted it, there was more than £2,000 inside for one of our appeals.
But by far the most interesting donation that Pat has taken receipt of was a collection of model airplanes which was "top quality stuff" and sold for £60.
So what would he say to someone who was thinking of donating something to one of our shops?
I would say think about it in terms of what value that has and how that can contribute to helping Concern and its work in other countries across the world. But also from the recycling, sustainability side of it as well. It is good to recycle these days and if it can be recycled in some way you've hit two bonuses.
Did you know these six things about our shops?
We've seven second-hand shops
Concern has seven second-hand shops in the UK – all of them in Northern Ireland. Two are bookshops, while the other five sell pre-owned household items and clothes.
Our first shop opened in 1983
Concern’s first shop opened in the seaside resort of Ballycastle in north Antrim after the local community decided to support Concern’s response to the devastating famine in Ethiopia in 1983.
The second was started by a group of women
Less than 10 years later, in another coastal town, Newcastle in Co Down, a group of women got together to open Concern’s second shop – this time in response to the deadly famine in Somalia in 1992.
They've raised almost £4 million in donations
To date, our Concern shops have raised almost £4 million in donations to help the world’s most vulnerable people.
Our shops are staffed by around 100 volunteers
It takes on average 24 volunteers each week to keep just one of our shops open. In all, around 100 people devote their time and energy to working in Concern shops.
Some of our volunteers have years of service
Some of our shop volunteers have been with us for more than 35 years – now that’s commitment!
To find out more about how to volunteer in our shops, how to donate items and where our shops are located...
Other ways to help
Give a one-off, or a monthly, donation today.
From mountain trekking to marathon running, join us for one of our many exciting outdoor events!
With an extensive range of alternative gifts, we have something to suit everybody.
Leave the world a better place with a life-changing legacy.
We partner with a range of organisations that share our passion and the results have been fantastic.
Raise money for Concern by organising your own charity fundraising event.