Under the contented gaze of Norwood leaders, business was brisk as the UK’s first multifaith charity shop launched on the third floor of Selfridges’ Oxford Street store.
Norwood, Islamic Relief, the London Buddhist Centre and Spitalfields Crypt Trust are the beneficiaries of the retail outlet, the brainchild of American artist, writer and filmmaker Miranda July.
It is presented by Artangel, whose mission is to bring art to unexpected places.
July was inspired by her visits to the UK in her 20s when she was “giddily amazed by the sheer number of charity shops”.
The Norwood representatives were impressed by the look of the store, which, in an enclosed area, stands out from the adjoining open plan high end fashion outlets. The blue signage went down particularly well with Natasha Hodes, the charity’s trading co-ordinator, who remarked: “It’s Norwood colours.”
On the trading front, there had been a “few big purchases”. But this was in the context of charity shop prices. The most expensive item on opening day, a distinctive men’s suit, was quickly snapped up for £55 by an extremely satisfied customer. “It fits perfectly,” he said.
Most of the items are secondhand, or “pre-loved”, as the Norwood people like to term them.
July has designed the store bags in Selfridges yellow and the blue price tags, which name the four charities and give basic details of the project.
David Ereira, the Norwood chairman, contributed £10 to the coffers by purchasing a pair of brass children’s shoes – “they are representative of where we started in 1795”. For £2, he could have bought a kippah box.
In the spirit of collaboration – the charities have contributed equal stock and will share the profits – Norwood is storing all the shop items in its west London warehouse. Given the first day demand, Mr Ereira was already considering the logistics of constantly replenishing stock.
Echoing Ms Hodes’ sentiments, he observed: “It looks like a Norwood shop. Do you think they’d mind if I put a mezuzah up?”
“It’s very exciting for all of us,” he added. “It is also a message that our doors are always open. We will work with anyone.”
Equally satisfied was Michael Morris, co-director of Artangel, who said the aim had been to make it seem as though the shop had somehow been transplanted from the high street.
The four beneficiaries had been chosen carefully after an exhaustive and “extremely secretive process”. In Norwood’s case, what appealed was “their long history and what it is they do”. It was also important that the charities “don’t necessarily alleviate stuff just of their own faith”.
Those involved in the project hope it will achieve a variety of things, among them bringing the charity shop to a new audience and making money for the participating quartet.
July also highlighted the juxtaposition of a charity shop within a luxury and iconic retail space. Still a lover of charity shops, she had been eyeing up a Valentino jacket which was among the first day stock. But a canny shopper had got in first.