Home » Crisis in UK seaside town as charity shop forced to shut because of shoplifting

Crisis in UK seaside town as charity shop forced to shut because of shoplifting

Heartless shoplifters and the cost-of-living crisis have forced a devastated cancer charity boss to shut up shop.

Heartbroken Graeme Sergeant says a perfect storm of thefts, waning donations, the domination of larger charities and personal reasons led to the decision by trustees to call it a day.

The 70-year-old’s wife, Lizzie Sergeant – herself a volunteer at the Chemotherapy Cancer Project in Herne Bay, Kent – now sadly has grade four cancer herself and needs his attention.

Though his wife’s cancer diagnosis and the waning donations are the primary reasons for the charity’s closure, Mr Sergeant said heartless shoplifters who steal items from the shop haven’t helped.

“Theft and shoplifting, unfortunately, has been quite a big issue,” he said.

“You wouldn’t believe what people nick. You wouldn’t think they’d rob charity shops, but they do.

“Everyone across Herne Bay is suffering from shoplifting. It’s terrible.

“I mean, who nicks a stopper out of a decanter? Who fills a van with four or five pieces of clothes when they’re buying one – or not buying anything?

“We can’t afford sophisticated security. We’re all volunteers – no one takes a wage and it adds up.

“We had someone say, ‘Well you don’t pay for nothing’ – but we do.

“We pay the same bills as any normal business, and it all adds up.

“If you’re not getting the income in, or someone’s walking off with some of that income, you can’t pay your bills.”

But though the retired engineer admits he’ll likely shed a few tears when he closes the doors for the final time, he’s buoyed by the fact that the Salvation Army will take over the running of the charity’s drop-in sessions for those undergoing chemotherapy.

On the reasons for the closure of the cancer charity, which was founded five years ago and will cease trading in August, Mr Sergeant explained: “It’s a combination of things.

“Unfortunately, donation-wise, across Herne Bay the little charities are not getting the donations.

“Secondly, my wife has grade four cancer and, unfortunately, the pain’s getting worse.

“She’s not well enough to participate in the running of the shop, because we have a complete lack of volunteers.

“So I’ve had to take the decision mainly because of the donation side, but the second part is I’ve got to spend more time with my wife. She needs me now.”

Mr Sergeant also believes there’s an oversaturation of not-for-profits in the town, leading to the downfall of many smaller charities like his, which began by making gift bags for people going through chemotherapy treatment.

“There’s a cost-of-living crisis,” he said. “Unfortunately, the level of donations we’ve been getting is not enough.

“We did a collection last Saturday and only got £34. Right now, it costs us more to open the shop than to have it shut.

“People aren’t coming in and we still pay for the gas, electricity and things like that.

“For every ten donations going in, I’d say the bigger independent charities such as Maya’s Community Support Centre and Free Shop are getting eight or nine of them, and we’re getting maybe one.

“It’s had a massive effect on the smaller charities in the town.”

Thankfully, the Salvation Army has agreed to take over the drop-in centre cafe Mr Sergeant also runs from the site.

However, the charity boss admitted that the final day would still be highly emotional.

“It’s very sad,” Mr Sergeant said. “I leave it with a heavy heart, but as long as the drop-in continues, I’m happy.

“It does choke me up because I started it, I’ve seen it grow and it’s now at a position where it can continue to grow, thankfully.

“When I finally close the door I must admit I’ll probably shed a few tears because I get quite emotional now even just thinking about it.

“But it is the right decision. You can only continue doing these things for so long.

“It’s the hardest thing in the world to make that decision when you get to a certain age, to give up.

“It’s that point, and my wife needs me. I’ve been with Liz since she was 16 and she’s now 67.”