Forget rummage boxes and sticky carpets – Britain's charity shops are being given a design makeover to "contemporise" them for modern shoppers who no longer like picking over old shoes, bric-a-brac and incomplete jigsaws in fusty surroundings.
One of the country's biggest charities, Age UK, is turning all its 500 shops into bright outlets with white walls, smooth lines, wooden flooring and trendy furniture. Shoppers will be able to receive information on the charity's work and advice from a series of "interactive touch-screen kiosks".
Age UK, formed from the merger of Age Concern and Help the Aged, opened its first version of the "innovative new concept" in Ashstead, Surrey, this week and will convert shops in Colne, Chesterfield, and Kentish Town, north London, by June. Over the next four years it will refit all its 500 outlets – almost as common a sight on the high street as W H Smith.
The overtly-styled shops are part of the modernisation of the country's 8,000 charity stores, which sell donations of clothes, furniture, books, crockery and other miscellaneous gifts. Nationally, the fundraising shops make £120m a year from a turnover of £600m.
Save the Children is slowly switching its 123 shops to a funkier "Living and Giving" format following a televised experiment overseen by the retail expert Mary Portas last year. At its Orpington branch in Kent last year, "Mary Queen of Shops" cleared out the clutter – and some octogenarian staff – and replaced them with clothes made by local fashion students and brought in a professional manager. Since then the shop's takings have soared from £900 to £3,000-£4,000 a week; BBC2 will screen an update to the series on Monday.
According to David Moir, head of public affairs for the Association of Charity Shops, leading charities are seeking to adapt the "pile-it-high" multi-purpose format. "Many more charities are looking at diversifying and specialising, into boutiques, bookshops, furniture and electricals," he said. "We are moving away from the model we all know and love and towards what consumers are demanding."
The biggest player, Oxfam, which has 750 shops, has been experimenting with online fashion sales and opening specialist bookshops. The British Heart Foundation, which has 600 shops, has been creating furniture and electrical "superstores".
Age UK's 500 shops will be fitted out in its colours and "incorporate contemporary shop fittings and signage". To reinforce the recycling element of buying from charity shops, goods will feature the slogan "I've been loved before, so love me again". The charity, which supports a global network and funds research into ageing, said: "The concept stores have been launched with an ambition to become a community hub.
"As well as stocking a range of donated items, including clothes, books and homeware, they will be the first in the UK to feature interactive touch-screen kiosks, giving internet access to other Age UK services, including the new free information and advice line."