HAVING lost vital funding due to being closed for months, you’d think charity shops would be grateful for donations of stock now they’re open again. Not if my experience over recent days is anything to go by.

Like most people, I’ve had a lockdown clear-out. Nothing industrial-scale - just bits and pieces I no longer need. So last week I packed it into three large carrier bags and drove to a local charity shop, where I’ve dropped several donations off before. I even have a Gift Aid card with them and have bought things there. So I thought, perhaps naively, that as a customer with donations of clean, good quality household goods I’d be welcomed. What I didn’t expect was to be treated like a naughty child.

“Are them donations?” barked a woman, from across the store. “Er, yes,” I said, feeling suddenly awkward and strangely guilty. “No donations today - Tuesdays only. Back door!” was her response. Instead of: “Thank you so much, I’m sorry but we’re not accepting items today. If you can make it on Tuesday that would be great” she practically tutted, as if I was a nuisance time-waster. As I left, with my stuff, feeling deflated, I couldn’t help thinking it was my time that was being wasted - if they’d put the donation details online, they’d have saved me a trip.

Now I’ve been longing for charity shops to re-open - even more than hairdressers - and I’d taken a day off work to finally offload my stuff, so I wasn’t giving up. I looked online to see when other shops were open and finally found one that was taking donations that day. I rang to ask if I needed an appointment and was told: “No, just come along.”

I drove two miles to the shop. And I walked in, with my bags, to a stony look from the manager. “I’m not taking anything else today,” she said. “But I just rang, she said it was fine,” I said. “Well I haven’t spoken to anyone,” she sniffed, clearly not believing me. I felt like I was 12, being told off at school for something I hadn’t even done. “Maybe the person I spoke to was in an office or something,” I stuttered, barely even believing myself. “But I’ve taken a day off work for this, and I’ve driven over...”

“I’m not taking it,” she snapped. It felt like being put on detention. Once again, I carried my bags out of the shop - by this time I was starting to feel like an actual bag lady. I drove to another charity shop nearby - having checked, I knew they weren’t taking donations that day but I thought I’d try to book another slot. “Wait there!” shouted the jobsworth assistant as I approached the entrance. I’m all for social distancing but since there was no-one in front of me, her order seemed unnecessary. She chatted to her colleague, ignoring me, until I plucked up courage to speak. “What is it you’ve got?” she sneered, suspiciously, then: “Tomorrow. No later than 11. Nothing after 11!” I didn’t bother going back. I’d been to three charity shops in one day, and each staffed by rude women.

Would I ever be rid of my stuff? Would it forever be in the back of my car? Should I leave it in a shop doorway after dark? In the end, after speaking to a polite chap on the phone, I booked a slot at a Marie Curie shop - and they couldn’t have been nicer. They will get my Gift Aid custom in future.

Charity shops are inundated with donations right now, and it must be stressful. The staff are largely volunteers, items have to be quarantined and, yes, customers can be difficult. But that’s no excuse for poor service. Charities have been dismayed to lose funds through shop closures during lockdown. This is a time when they should value our support - not make us feel like unwelcome pests.

* ACCORDING to a press release I read, 'charity shops near me open today' searches have soared by 450per cent in the past 30 days. With many turning away donations due to the huge influx of lockdown clear-out stuff (see above), and over 60 million items of clothing bagged up, GivingAssistant.org (www.givingassistant.org) has suggested some alternative solutions for our unwanted stuff: 'Upcycle your old jeans into a distressed denim skirt''. 'Transform jumpers into cat ropes.' 'Turn clothes into cleaning rags'.

My grandma was doing all that yonks ago. I was once horrified to discover that she was using the same pair of old knickers to clean her kitchen floor AND wash dishes. From that day, whenever she made a pot of tea, I mastered the art of pretending to sip it without actually touching the cup...