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Posted by Sarah Brown on 20 Aug '21

20 ways to use a free retail unit

Lots of shops are now available for charities to use free of charge but don't just think charity shop, there are lots of other ways to use a retail space.

A couple of times in the last month, I have had a list of retail units available for free for charities all over the UK - contact Community Spaces to find out more.

For charities that don't run shops, the immediate thought may be not for us, but it got me thinking about how a charity could use a retail unit. I forced myself to come up with 20 ideas to show that it could be an opportunity worth taking. In the context of rethinking our town centres, these free spaces give charities a chance to be involved and be at the heart of community regeneration.

1 Use the space to promote what your charity does

Have an exhibition of photos, have volunteers who can share their experiences with people, leaflets, collect donations, promote anything you sell - use it for marketing

2 Test an idea

Maybe you have thought of a specialist shop or particular service you might offer to the public. Use the shop to pilot the idea and see what response you get. If people can actually buy something, this is much more valuable than doing market research. You will find out if people really will give you their money.

3 Work experience

Use the shop as a work experience opportunity for people you support; involve them in deciding what the shop should do.

4 Collaborate

Use the space as an opportunity to build relationships with other charities in a collaboration to make the most of it using some of the other ideas in this list.

5 A book in a week/month

Invite the local community or a target part of it, like young people, to share their experience, ideas, local memories or whatever and create a book in this pop-up publishing centre. Type it up there and then sell copies/promote it

6 Space to learn IT

Possibly combined with the book above, use the space for people who need help using tablets, computers or smartphones to learn how to. They can build their skills by inputting bits of the book.

7 Sell local produce

Encourage local people to be entrepreneurs or just to sell what they have grown or made through the shop with some of the money going to the charity

8 Craft sessions

Anything from Knit and Natter, crochet and chat to paint and ponder. A chance for people to get together and feel good and potentially produce things to sell/attract donations or support people in need.

9 Learn a craft

Demonstrations of arts and crafts to inspire and inform people

10 Have games sessions

Dominos, cards or board games, even jigsaws - another chance to bring people together, address loneliness and generate a bit of income from donations, payments for refreshments etc

11 Have talks and training

Promote your mission, how you want to change the world with talks and training. Depending on what you do, it might be: How to be a better parent; Protecting the environment: How to get a job.

12 Use it as a community hub/networking centre

A venue for local groups to meet, councillors and MPs to meet local people. Support people into work by holding events for employers and local people to meet informally and chat in a safe space

13 Run a bookshop and reading groups

Sell books and encourage readers with reading groups

14 Playgroup location

Run playgroups

15 Afterschool activities/club

Provide activities for young people

16 Breakfast club

Run a breakfast club before school and then offer simple food throughout the day

17 Community repair centre

Encourage people to get stuff repaired and also sell on items people don't want anymore doing the repairs on-site or being a location for people to drop things off. Potentially teach people simple tasks such as how to change a plug

18 Learn to cook sessions

Cooking demos with simple equipment, the opportunity to provide meal packs of ingredients so people can prepare the recipe at home

19 Mancave

Space for men to meet who may feel isolated

20 Just use it as a free storage space

So there it is, lots of ways a free space might make you money or help you fulfil your mission. Indeed, a positive use by a charity has to be better than a shop standing empty.

I am sure there are many other ways that charities could use free retail spaces - do share them with me, and I will promote them.

Interested in ideas read these:

Three ideas for creating the best New Normal for you

Innovation - 15 examples of bad ideas or mistakes

Have you got too many ideas and options?

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Tags: charity ideas