Charity shop guru, Preloved Chica, visits St Elizabeth Hospice stores to see impact of Covid-19 on customer experience
From vinyl records and vintage furniture to prom dresses and everything in between, charity shops are Aladdin’s caves full of pre-loved clothes and other items. However, with Covid-19 and government restrictions surrounding social distancing, how has the shopping experience changed for those who love searching for hidden gems?
After lockdown saw the temporary closure of all of its 31 charity shops, in July independent Suffolk charity St Elizabeth Hospice began a staggered reopening of its retail arm across East Anglia.
Since then the hospice has been taking in between 700-1000 bags of donations every day at its two retail centres at Martlesham Heath and Holywells, in Ipswich, where a newly assembled, dedicated team accepts the items before they are placed in secure vans, offsite for 72 hours before being distributed to the charity’s network of shops.
While in store, to adhere to government Covid-19 guidelines, customers are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and hand sanitiser has been made available for use upon entering and leaving all shops. As well as this, customers have been observing one way system rules when shopping and queuing and contactless payments are being encouraged by the St Elizabeth Hospice retail teams.
One loyal customer excited to see the hospice’s charity shops reopening is Elene Marsden, or Preloved Chica, as she is more widely known online.
Elene, who lives in Ipswich and has been shopping in charity shops for over 20 years, explained: “I was first in the queue to visit St Elizabeth Hospice’s shop on Heath Road, Ipswich when it opened. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first with the new measures in place, but it was very well organised with a one-way flow of traffic and hand sanitiser at the entrance. I felt reassured that St Elizabeth Hospice charity shops had taken the safety of its staff and customers seriously. I am very comfortable visiting charity shops again.
“Yes, things are different but that’s to be expected but I still haven’t lost my passion for preloved clothes. You can pick up some wonderful bargains while feeling good that you’re supporting your local hospice at the same time.”
Elene’s passion for supporting St Elizabeth Hospice is a personal one. Her husband, Steve was cared for by the hospice until his passing in February 2017. She couldn’t have wished for a better place for Steve to spend his final days.
Elene enjoys exploring charity shops for clothes for herself but also likes to purchase extra special gifts for friends and family.
“I have bought so many things from charity shops over the years, including a Giorgio Armani jacket previously owned by English actress, Felicity Kendal. I think 95% of my wardrobe must be preloved!” she explains.
“I love the variety of clothes you can find in charity shops, this supports my unique style. It’s an exciting way to shop, you never know what you’re going to find. It’s great if you’re shopping on a budget and of course, you’re helping your local charity too.
“I was very impressed with the work St Elizabeth Hospice does in helping patients and their families during difficult times. I had firsthand experience with this. I am always keen to raise funds and promote the hospice in any way I can. That’s why I always donate my clothes to their charity shops as well as promoting the hospice on my Preloved Chica Show on Ipswich Community Radio.”
As well as presenting on Ipswich Community Radio, Elene is also known to many as Preloved Chica, she has a YouTube channel, is active on Instagram and has her own Preloved Chica website where she shares her charity shop purchases with others across the globe. She offers a preloved styling service to her customers, giving advice on how to style clothes and where to find the best-preloved bargains.
Elene added: “Charities like St Elizabeth Hospice rely on fundraising and donations to survive, so I feel it is really important that people venture to their local charity shops to see what they can find. By purchasing preloved items you are also helping the environment by keeping clothes out of landfill.
“I can’t encourage others enough to go to their local charity shop to have a rummage around as you never know what you might find. Charity shops are really full of wonderful gems waiting to be rediscovered.”
St Elizabeth Hospice is an independent Suffolk charity providing free services to improve life for people living with a progressive or life limiting illness. Centered on an individual's needs, the hospice provides specialist support, whenever and wherever it is needed, whether at home, in the community or at the hospice.
To find out more about Elene Marsden and Preloved Chica visit www.prelovedchica.com.
For full information on all St Elizabeth Hospice retail shops visit www.stelizabethhospice.org.uk/coronavirus-information/shop-information or to purchase from the hospice’s eBay store visit www.ebay.co.uk/str/stelizabethhospice