An in-depth study into the value of charity shops found they keep people shopping on their high street and drastically reduce the number of empty shops, challenging the perception that they fuel high street decline. Ally Paget, researcher at Demos and author of the report, said: "It is a real shame that the multitude of benefits offered by charity shops is so often unrecognised and under-used, especially in this time of austerity."

The report says business benefits include keeping high streets buzzing and providing opportunities for unemployed people to gain experience and skills. Social benefits for older volunteers and customers who rely on shops to interact with local community and ward off loneliness and isolation also featured.

Trish Blacknall, manager of the Age Concern shop in Upper Tything, Worcester, said: "It does give people a step up to employment because if you've been out of the job market for a while for whatever reason, it is a step into work. "We build confidence and give skills and for those who have been out of work, to suddenly feel valued and get a sense of worth, is a big confidence boost and we do value them, too." She said Age Concern shops in the city were "social hubs" for older and isolated people. "It's almost like it is a little universe and for a lot of those people they wouldn't get that otherwise," she said. "It is somewhere they can go that doesn't cost anything and is safe."

Warren Alexander, of the Charity Retail Association, said the report gave clear insight into the work and social benefits to individuals. "Charity shops offer a space for individuals to learn new skills and experience through volunteering and work," he said. "It is great to see charities using their space in imaginative and resourceful ways to not only be retail operations but act as community centres, bases for service delivery and hubs for vulnerable people."

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