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Wednesday, 03 September 2014

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Cumbria charity shop surprises include stuffed fake cats and breast implants

Shoppers looking for an unusual purchase have always been pointed in the direction of charity and second-hand stores.

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Julie Johnstone, manageress of the Age UK Charity Shop in Carlisle, with a shield used for medieval re-enactments

But would they be interested in buying a fake stuffed cat, a shield for medieval battle re-enactments, a walking stick-cum-pick axe or a pair of silicone breast implants?

If so, they would be well-catered for in Carlisle as these are just some of the things people have handed in to shops around the city.

Staff at the stores have described how they are frequently donated bags of goods ranging from the weird and wonderful to the downright disturbing.

At the Harraby Opshop, run by the Carlisle Diocese, volunteers said they sift through every bag of goods to look for anything inappropriate, frequently finding plenty, all of which end up being thrown away.

Recently binned items include dirty underwear, a lab coat with an explicit slogan written on it, and a collection of business cards for a male escort.

One item attracting attention at present is a very realistic mock stuffed cat, made, according to its label, from skinned rabbits.

Hillary Murray, 68, the shop’s manager, believes many people don’t realise what they are handing in.

“People don’t think what they’re clearing out,” she said.

Across in Denton Holme, the donations don’t seem to be any less bizarre. A volunteer at the St James Church shop on Denton Road said a commode was one of the unusual items they had seen handed in.

Slightly further down the street at the area’s branch of Age Concern staff had some extremely unique products on display.

Drawing most attention was a shield used for medieval battle re-enactments.

Appropriately, it had the name ‘Norman’ written on it. A walking stick which appeared to have a double use as a pick axe was also being held behind the counter.

The shop’s manager, Julie Johnstone, 48, was at a loss to explain why these items seem to end up being donated to good causes.

“I don’t know really,” she said.

“They can just put a donation in the bag. We’re getting a lot of rubbish because they can’t take it to a tip.”

Donors have mixed up their black bags of goods to be resold with household rubbish, sending the wrong sack into the shop.

Ms Johnstone also recalls one occasion when someone confused clothes from a house clearance with their family’s garments, prompting a quick taking down of stock in the store.

People who have split up with their partners and want to get rid of their belongings also make frequent trips to the store.

However, she said she would never turn a sack of donations away as many unusual items can be valuable and sell for significant funds. She highlighted a silver bowl, which was sold for a large sum.

This is a point her counterpart at the Scotch Street branch of homelessness charity Shelter agrees with.

Rosie Dickinson, 36, received a mystery donation which brought in almost £7,000 for the cause, an AH Emile Blondelet violin which ended up being sold at auction last month. Alongside this, she said another musical instrument had been handed in, an upright piano.

She said: “I had to sell it from the office. I had to put a notice up in the window and I had people coming up into the office to see it.”

Despite these good finds, she has also seen her fair share of things which couldn’t be sold again.

Highlights have included donations of food, which she thinks people have handed in to be given to homeless people.

The shop though is not allowed to sell this and usually it ends up going in the bin. “If someone came in that day I would give it to them,” Miss Dickinson added.

She has also received a bin bag full of prescription drugs, which came in following a house clearance and were promptly handed over to the police.

“It’s quite interesting what people throw away,” she commented, adding that wherever possible the store will recycle what it does not use.

Volunteers at Cancer Research UK on Bank Street meanwhile said the strangest thing they could remember getting handed in was a pair of silicone breast implants, donated in a cardboard box.

“They don’t know what to do with things so they bring it all to us,” said Jean Robson, 76, who works there.

It is not just Carlisle where donations are decidedly odd.

Veterinary charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals has just published it’s top 10 unusual hand-ins over the last year.

Included on the list was a pop-up guide to the Kama Sutra, a brand new Amazon Kindle, an urn containing ashes and rubber pants, which were handed in to shops as far afield as Taunton, Somerset and Hull in East Yorkshire.

The organisation’s retail operations manager Jeff Brown commented that its shops receive “some very unusual items”.

“Some are wonderful and very valuable, while some others simply make the mind boggle,” he added.

There is one type of donation that causes concern at every visited charity shop in Carlisle, described by one volunteer, who asked not to be identified, as: “Items you would find in a bedroom but not furniture.”

Every shop spoken to said it had received hand-ins of pornographic magazines and films, sex toys and dressing up kits.

These cannot be resold and always end up in the bin.

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