two women standing behind a shop counter
Eileen and Catrin behind the counter at Greyhound Rescue Wales' shop. Image credit: Cerys Gardner.

Friendly faces, brilliant buys and a sense of community… inside Cardiff’s charity shops

They sell everything from clothes and books to a vintage harmonica which makes Cardiff’s charity shops a staple of the high streets

WALKING down Albany Road, you’re never more than a few feet from a charity shop and their colourful window displays — especially at Christmas. 

Charity shops are a big business in the UK with more than 10,000 contributing £387 million to charity funds, according to the Charity Retail Association. 

I visited three of Cardiff’s most beloved charity shops to talk to the people who work and volunteer in them. They are Tenovus, which helps people affected by cancer in Wales; Safe, an international development organisation; and animal charity Greyhound Rescue Wales.  

A common theme among everyone I spoke to is a sense of community within the shops.

Image of a child's Christmas jumper

I didn’t want to be at home all the time. It helps me tremendously

– Eileen, volunteer at Greyhound Rescue Wales

A child’s Christmas jumper for sale in Greyhound Rescue. Image Credit: Cerys Gardner.

Andrea John has volunteered at Greyhound Rescue on Albany Road since it opened in 2016. She always knew that she wanted to do something different after retiring from her job managing a hospital social work team. She chose working in a charity shop as a way to meet new people and help others.

Andrea said: “I enjoy the interaction with other volunteers and colleagues, getting to know them. It’s a very supportive environment. I could quite happily say that everybody here looks out for everybody else.”

Eileen has volunteered at the Greyhound Rescue shop for six years. She started volunteering 11 years ago after leaving rehab for alcohol addiction. 

“I didn’t want to be at home all the time,” said Eileen. “It helps me tremendously. I was determined I wasn’t going to sit about doing nothing because it’s a danger point.”

Woman standing next to shelves of Christmas Cards

Charity shops can also be a vital hub for customers, especially those who are older or live alone. In November 2023, a quarter of UK adults reported feeling lonely to the Office for National Statistics. By offering a friendly face charity shops can help combat this.  

Tiphaine Lecrivain, 43, is the manager at the Tenovus shop on Albany Road. She said: “It’s massive [for the community]. Some customers will come pretty much every day and they come and have a chit-chat and you can tell it’s just to get out of the house. We definitely have quite a strong community around here. There’s a customer and he reads a lot and literally every week he gives me books and buys books.”

Tiphaine next to Tenvous’ Christmas card display. Image Credit: Cerys Gardner.

Catrin Townend, the assistant manager at Greyhound Rescue, said: “I think the atmosphere is different in a charity shop because people come in to chat, people come in to bring their own stuff. They tell you the story of the stuff they brought. They tell you about what they’re trying to buy. I think there’s an extra level of community involved in a charity shop.”

As well as donations, every shop I visited had an anecdote about someone who makes them items to sell. 

At Tenovus, Tiphaine told me about a lady who uses donated wool to knit blankets. Greyhound Rescue has Gwen, who makes stuffed figures of greyhounds which are displayed around the shop. 

The charity shop Safe sell old books turned into Christmas trees made by volunteer Yvonne. They also have a woodwork reindeer for sale made by Richard, who runs the GoodShed group at Railway Gardens in Splott. 

The community spirit also extends to the environmental benefits of charity shopping. Catrin said that she thinks “it’s a good environmental choice”.

Hannah Canning, 41, the shop manager at Safe on Whitchurch Road, explained: “As a charity we want to be as green as we can so we’re all about reusing, sustainability and so having a charity shop fits in with our ethics. It’s a great way to fundraise for the charity but also it’s a great way to advertise and advocate sustainable shopping.” 

Safe makes bunting from the scraps of clothing that can’t be sold.

In September, Tenovus launched a vintage section. Tiphaine said they started it to make the shop more current and to highlight the vintage pieces they have. 

Tiphaine told me about Ivy, a volunteer at Tenovus, who created a bright pink sign advertising the vintage section. She also upcycles vintage clothes that are missing buttons or have stains into saleable items. 

Safe’s ethical boutique takes this concept a step further, displaying a lot of vintage pieces. “We’re quite fussy about what we put out on rails, we’ll try and put things out that are special or colourful or good quality. I think if it’s eye-catching you’re more likely to get customers in,” said Hannah. 

Recently, they had a mahogany box from 1894 donated. It was used for carrying men’s toiletries while aboard a ship and still has crystal pots inside for shaving products. They were able to trace the make of the box to a specific silversmith in London. Safe plans to auction off the box, which is worth around £500. 

Greyhound Rescue is, understandably, a dog-friendly shop with treats for canine customers behind the counter. They even have a greyhound regular named Diesel who comes in with his owner on a Wednesday and a Friday. The volunteers told me that he loves to be stroked. 

Photos of Greyhounds on the shop wall

They’re amazing dogs, they’re lovely. They’re full of personality

– Catrin, assistant manager at Greyhound Rescue Wales

Photos of Greyhounds on the shop wall. Image credit: Cerys Gardner.

This canine connection is also why Catrin chose to work at Greyhound Rescue. Her family own greyhounds — Winnie, when she first began working in the shop, and now Barney. “They’re amazing dogs, they’re lovely. They’re full of personality,” she added.

Most of the stores I visited were decorated with tinsel and baubles for Christmas — a valuable time of year for charity shops. 

Mannequin styled to look like a Christmas tree

Festive window displays help them to stand out. Greyhound Rescue has an eye-catching Christmas tree-inspired dress in its window. “We’ve got the best window along here, I think,” said Freda Gill, 78, who has volunteered in charity shops since retiring from her job in the Panasonic canteen 14 years ago. 

Charity shops often run additional fundraisers at Christmas, with cards the most common way of making extra money.  

This year, Tenovus is inviting people to write messages of support on baubles which are then displayed in the shop window. Greyhound Rescue runs an annual Christmas raffle, the prizes this year are four Fortnum and Mason hampers. 

Christmas tree dress currently on display in Greyhound Rescue Wales’ window. Image Credit: Janine Graves/Greyhound Rescue Wales.

Tiphaine said: “People definitely seem to appreciate all the different things they can do to give a bit more for Christmas to the charity.”

It’s clear that Cardiff’s charity shops are central to their communities, both receiving donations and giving back. As Freda said: “As long as you can help somebody, it’s good.”