Crisis is a charity which focuses on grass roots help for the homeless as well as lobbying for legislative change (such as ensuring quick and available housing) to end homelessness all together. The charity, which turned 50 last year, is also known for running accredited education, training and employment programmes across the UK. These programmes offer creative and practical workshops to people with homelessness issues, all year round in supportive environments which are called Skylight Centres. One such centre (and the 11th in the country) opened last February, just around the corner from the new café, on Surrey Street. And to throw in a random fact for you, Crisis was also one of the seven charities supported by Meghan and Harry in lieu of gifts for their wedding back in May.
It is no accident that the new café-come charity shop is near Croydon’s Skylight, so we wanted to find out more about this unusual café set-up. We settled down for a coffee and a chat with Ed, the shop supervisor for the Croydon branch, the fifth to open nationally after Commercial street in East London, Finsbury Park, Oxford and Newcastle.
Croydonist: Let’s start with a bit about the new shop.
Ed: It’s been open about 3 months, and we got it ready from scratch, which took a month, as it used to be a betting shop. The idea of having cafés in our charity shops is quite new. The café make the shop a bit of a social point. The first Crisis café in Commercial Street is a café only, so no shop connected. But Finsbury Park is similar to Croydon’s one – people are surprised about the combination. It keeps the shops fresh and changes things. Money raised in the café and shop goes directly back to the charity – another avenue of fundraising for us.
Croydonist: The charity shop doesn’t feel like a normal run-of-the-mill charity shop. It has a vintage/boutique vibe to it. How do you go about curating it?
Ed: We’re quite selective with what we put out. We have a big pool of stock available as there’s so many shops across the city. We’re setting the standard of what our shop is about. We get some really amazing donations in. By keeping things stylish people who might not have given their fancy French Connection skirts and dresses to a charity shop feel they could give it here. I’m always amazed by the generosity of donations at the Crisis charity shops. We rely on this. And in turn it attracts people to give better stuff.
Croydonist: Do you take local donations or are they organised more centrally?
Ed: Yes we take local donations. At the moment we also rely on excess from the other shops as it’s a big shop to fill. But as we become known for what we’re about and where we are, we’ll get more donations.
Croydonist: Is there donations you don’t take?
Ed: We don’t take kids clothes at the moment, but we take everything else from books to bric a brac, and even furniture. Unused donations get sent to a textiles company, which Crisis gets money for, and counts towards earnings for the charity. If stuff doesn’t sell we can pass it on to another shop – Crisis has a big warehouse to keep the stock. With six shops in London of the size of this one it’s a lot of stuff.
Croydonist: Do all the staff take turns with sorting the donations? We imagine it must be quite a task.
Ed: Yes we take turns. We need people to be in touch what we’re looking for – current trends or unique pieces.
Croydonist: What is your connection to the Skylight on Surrey Street?
Ed: We have the opportunity to work closely with Skylight. We get lots of volunteers who are Crisis members – people who are currently seeking help through Crisis. The charity is starting an accredited training programme for the shops, so people can get a qualification to enter paid work.
Croydonist: How many of you work at the Croydon branch?
Ed: We have three paid staff, the manager Ross, the assistant manager Rob, and myself, the shop supervisor. Then we always have at least one volunteer in. The volunteer pool is growing and we’re getting lots of people. I find it a real pleasure to work around volunteers. Anyone can apply – you need no credentials. We appreciate people giving their time, and we’re quite flexible, you could perhaps do 4 hours a week, or more or less. For the café we have a coffee consultant, so everyone trains to be a barista. It’s a new skill to learn.
Croydonist: Are you locals, or do you commute to Croydon?
Ed: We’re all commuting at the moment. So far it’s been great getting to know Croydon – it’s got a buzz. Most volunteers are local but Bill has a bit more of a journey, and travels from Plaistow! He came to help set up the shop, and we didn’t let him go…
Croydonist: What’s the best thing about working here so far.
Ed: It’s refreshing to meet and work with the volunteers – they haven’t had easy lives, and they re-engage with the community, and learn new skills. I like telling people what Crisis do. The shop is an avenue to inform people. Like the furniture project for instance – we have a workshop in Merseyside, where Crisis members gain the skills to repurpose and upcycle materials into furniture, and refurbish antique and boutique furniture. They are nice pieces of furniture with the added bonus of a story. You can buy some here. Our café furniture is for sale!
Thanks to Ed for chatting to the Croydonist. If you haven’t done so already, pop by the shop for a coffee and a bit of bargain hunting – the Crisis shop is open 7 days a week and can be found at 8 Crown Hill, Church Street, Croydon, CR0 1RZ. You can also follow what they’re up to on their Instagram.