Pre COVID my job took me all over the country and whilst staying in hotels can get boring the bonus was that often I was not far from a charity shop!
I love charity shops! It is not just the bargains - it was the fact that I am giving to a charity that makes me feel good. And yes, I have had a few "bum buys" - items that I thought that was ok but were broken or torn.
My star buy is a sport shirt that belonged to Dame Joan Collins purchased one day when I was en route to Gatwick airport. I was well ahead of schedule so decided to stop in Cobham home I believe to several Chelsea footballers whose training ground is just up the road. I quickly discovered that Cobham had some very nice shops and some fantastic charity shops. In one of them (Shooting Star Children's Hospices) was a heap of goodies that Dame Joan had donated. Well - what trans woman could resist? Joan Collins is a heroine of mine. Beautiful, feminine and wow what an actress. Sadly many of the items were too small for me, but the shirt made by Escada Sport looked like it would fit and on special occasions I wear it loose with a white tea shirt underneath.
Cobham, however, is not quite my favourite charity shop haunt though.
Gerrards Cross & Beaconsfield are not a million miles from my home. And whilst I could never afford to live in that area Jen (my wife), and I often hit Gerrards Cross charity shops in the morning and then go to lunch a few miles down the road at Beaconsfield - before hitting those charity shops again!
My favourite everyday summer dress came from the Cancer Research shop in Beaconsfield. Made by "bianca" it is a light grey knee-length shift dress with an abstract multicolour pattern. It is not too "posh" and lovely to wear. I dont recall how much it cost - about £12 (15 USD) or thereabouts and I love it!. I just walked into the shop, and it hit me straight away - there were no second thoughts - no try it on - it was bought in seconds.
I refuse to retire. I work with amazing people - all supportive of me when I transitioned and one colleague recently told me "I was at my prime" so I must be doing something right and intend to work til I drop.
So COVID permitting I (usually with Jen in tow) will be out on the road again soon.
There are other places I miss, though.
Norwich is my favourite city in the UK - just squeezing out Birmingham, where we love to go for "culture" the great library and Symphony Hall. Neither has great charity shops (or if they do, we have not found them), but the reason both Jen and I love Norwich is we feel so relaxed when there. We always hit the Van Dal Factory Shoe Shop and go to the theatre, as there are some very nice restaurants close by for pre-theatre dinner.
Norwich also comes across as a very trans-friendly city. I recall we were in a restaurant close to the theatre one evening when who poped in but four trans ladies.
I am lucky, I pass but bless - these souls did not but it DIDNT MATTER they was happy and better still everyone - yes everyone- were fully accepting.
With mascara rolling down my face, people must have wondered what was going on. I did not say hello to my trans sisters - I did not want to draw attention - but Norwich thank you.
You get the prize for the nicest, best city in the UK.
But I digress - back to those charity shops.
If you are in the north Harrogate offers lots of charity shops - as well, of course, those lovely cakes from Bettys Tea Rooms. Sadly, most hotels in Harrogate are past their best, but Harrogate is a beautiful town, and I always enjoy a quick visit to rummage through those upmarket charity shops!
Chester too is another location that boasts excellent charity shops with the bonus of a racecourse nearby that offers many "Ladies Day's" over the course of a COVID free season. I love an excuse to pop on a posh dress and Ladies Days at the races are the best!
My final nomination for great charity shop shopping is the small town of Petersfield on the A3 in Hampshire, about forty minutes south of Cobham. There are loads of charity shops, and the quality of items are well above average.
So there you have it - Stephs guide to UK charity shop shopping. Gerrards Cross, Beaconsfield, Cobham, Harrogate, Chester & Petersfield if you are passing - stop - enjoy the charity shop shopping and grab a bargain!