New-U

Third Sector • Norwich

New-U is a charity supporting out-of-work adults through placements in a textile swap shop which serves the wider community.

  • Shoppers at New-U's Glitz and Glam event
  • Donated items ready to be purchased.
  • New-U Co-Founder and CEO Sue Buffin.

Our story

New-U is a registered charity, operating a unique boutique-style shop in central Norwich offering quality pre-loved clothing and accessories for the whole family.

The organisation was set up with the dual aim of supporting young, unemployed and economically insecure people whilst reducing fashion and textile waste.

Through New-U, unemployed people have the chance to succeed and the wider community has a unique opportunity to contribute towards sustainable fashion.

Fashion consumption continues to gain speed at unsustainable levels and relies on a culture of disposability. The boom in online shopping has rapidly increased the number of clothes bought, and this was exacerbated by the multiple lockdowns during the COVID pandemic. Spending habits are typically influenced by the price of an item rather than the wider environmental impact of producing it. 60% more clothing is now bought than it was 15 years ago, and often these garments are only kept for half as long. In the UK alone, 11 million items of clothing are sent to landfill every week.

An individual deciding to reuse clothes is not likely to have a significant impact, however, coming together as a community of multiple re-users starts to make a real difference both in reducing waste and changing attitudes. New-U hopes to help change and replace the culture of disposable clothes consumption with a culture of repairing, sharing and reusing. People are encouraged to use the charity's swap shop by getting something in return for their second hand or unworn new items.

Young people were involved in the concept, design and evolution of New-U and continue to support the organisation by being active participants on its Steering Group which meets quarterly to discuss new initiatives and ideas and feedback on current delivery. This group includes representatives from the wider community such as customers, educational representatives, climate change activists, workplace participants and shop volunteers. The Steering Group helps to shape the charity's design and delivery, to ensure it continues to meet the ever-changing needs of the community.

New-U recognises that if someone has been out of work or training for a while, they will need support to gain confidence and recognise the skills they already have. Work placements with the charity are tailored to the individual, and focused around working with the person to identify their strengths and help support them towards work, training or volunteering. New-U welcomes people aged 18+ with low level mental health issues, disabilities and hidden disabilities, and endeavours to adapt each placement to the individual's needs.

In addition to the work experience placement, the charity offers employability support and the opportunity for a volunteer mentor.

Our advice

Initially New-U's swap shop was fully points based, meaning that people could "pay" for items from the boutique with just the points earned from their donations; however, this created a challenge around funding as there was little to no income to support the upskilling and employment side of the organisation. The new system, where points allow customers a 50% discount on new items bought in store ensures people still have an incentive to donate, are able to buy items at affordable prices, but the charity still receives some income.

Working with vulnerable young people requires care and flexibility. Each person undertaking a placement with New-U is treated as an individual, with the type of work, hours and support provided tailored to their specific needs.

In order to prevent any unnecessary clothing waste, New-U holds a monthly jumble sale, selling excess items that have been donated and those that are not of high enough quality to sell in the city-centre boutique. The charity also runs upcycling workshops and special events where guests are taught how to make and mend textile items, again reducing the amount of clothes ending up in landfill.

Our metrics

Number of young people undertaking work placements.
Number of items donated to boutique.
Number of items sold in boutique.
Amount of water saved from reuse of clothing.
Amount of carbon saved.
Number of attendees at events and upcycling workshops.

Feeling inspired? Discover more about this story...

Action Area

Circular Economy

Location

Norwich

Response to climate crisis

Mitigation

Reach

Area

Organisation

Third Sector, 10 to 49 people

Shared by

Sue Buffin

Updated Feb, 2024

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