Editor’s comment: Charity shop manager Sophie is my local hero

Sophie Condren found $9,700 in a handbag. Photo: Jessica Frank-Keyes

Sophie Condren found $9,700 in a handbag. Photo: Jessica Frank-Keyes - Credit: Archant

Every week these pages are full of inspiring people fundraising for charity, campaigning for the community or helping others with a random act of kindness.

But this week my local hero is the 23-year-old manager of the Shelter charity shop, in South End Green, Sophie Condren.

As the heartwarming story on our front page tells, fashion graduate Sophie was sifting through handbags donated by an elderly lady when she discovered $9,700 dollars tucked inside a little sparkling evening bag.

What did she do? Not quietly slip some inside her pocket, in the till or even just report the error to head office, but she sifted through the gift aid donation forms until she found the pensioner’s name and contact details and called her.

The owner of the money, a woman in her 70s who understandably did not want to be identified publicly, came in the next day to be reunited with her cash which she thought had been stolen a while ago.

Miss Condren’s fellow shelter volunteer Siobhan O Connell called us up “to give young Sophie some recognition” and “to show the world we are not all creeps.”

This heartening story of a young adult going way beyond the call of duty comes at a time when public trust in charities has fallen to an all time low with the Oxfam Haiti scandal and its lurid revelations likely to see a drastic fall in charity donations across the UK.

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According to a report in The Times, 7,000 donors have already cancelled their direct debit donations to Oxfam.

While Sophie’s act of kindness is unlikely to change the public mood, she is indeed a reminder that charity workers are ‘not all creeps’ and that most people who work in the voluntary sector are good people.

The charity sector says the big test of the fallout from the recent scandals will come next month with Sport Relief, which is scheduled to run on the BBC from March 17.

Since 2002, Sport Relief has raised more than £335m for charity in the UK and abroad.

In 2016 this appeal raised £55m in one night, which mostly went towards overseas aid allowing more than 900,000 people in Africa to be treated with anti-malaria drugs and 3.4 million pregnant women and children to benefit from better healthcare.

Many now fear that this year’s sleazy Oxfam revelations mean donations in the 2018 Sports Relief appeal will take a massive hit, which would be a great shame.

There are many important lessons to be learned from the recent charity scandals at Oxfam and Save The Children.

All these scandals are a wake up call for the sector to sort out monitoring and overall governance of charities.

There needs to be greater accountability and transparency with charity workers being held to the same standards as staff in other care industries, with strong background checks undertaken.

However, recent calls for the government to stop funding Oxfam and other humanitarian organisations is not the answer.

While people will make their own decisions regarding continuing donations to specific charities, it would be a tragedy if thousands of charities and the estimated 800,000 voluntary sector workers in the United Kingdom that are doing such good work suffer as a result.

The impact of this will not so much be felt by staff at these charities but by the people on the ground that they help.

Now more than ever charities are playing a vital role around the world dealing with humanitarian crises and conflicts such as in Syria, Myanmar and Yemen.

We should all continue to give to charities that are providing vital services in these areas and of course to our many local charities and charity shops, manned by genuinely good people like Sophie.