Focus on eBay for Charity

5 February 2021


More of us are now shopping online as the COVID-19 lockdown has temporarily closed high street retailers (like our Charity Shops). Our eBay store is also seeing an increase in traffic, so we thought it would be a good time to look at the story behind one of our successful departments, and how there’s much more to eBay for charity than just making money.

The beginning

WESC Foundation’s eBay was first setup in 2009 by Andrew Roberts as part of our charity’s social enterprise. Andrew is a former pupil of the West of England School and College (now known as WESC Foundation), is registered Severely Sight Impaired, and came to WESC Foundation after a successful career in hospitality.

At that point there were 2 charity shops in use by students for work experience, but we needed a way to offer opportunities to young people who couldn’t access the shops (our student cohort was beginning to change, and more young people came to us with larger wheelchairs for example). eBay was born, operating out of a small offices in the heart of our College campus.

It was part of the BTEC business course, aiming to pass on the skills our students needed to learn business, and maybe leave our college with the skills to set up on their own. Students were involved in administration and business management on a small scale (almost like a domestic account), perhaps listing 5 items per week. The positive feedback score sat at a rather modest 350.

Opportunities for supporting working-age adults and the expansion of the eBay programme

In around 2011 we began to notice a lost cohort of young people with vision impairment who were leaving education without the skills to take them into employment. These young people were ending up out of work.

It was also becoming clear that there was a case for expanding eBay onto a commercial footing, whilst still retaining the opportunities for the young people at WESC Foundation.

A programme called Route to Employment aimed to upskill adults with vision impairment who were out of work. It was a six month placement to develop basic workplace skills and disciplines, a sound footing to apply for paid work, and also practical support towards the end of the placement as they looked to transition into paid employment elsewhere.

Mark Vandenberg was one of the early Route to Employment candidates, and also a former college student who was out of work. Soon after starting it became clear that Mark beginning to grow the commercial side of the eBay store, and very quickly he was brought onto the team on a paid contract instead of completing the Route to Employment scheme. Mark continued to develop the scale of the online side of the social enterprise, and was eventually managing Supported Interns (a stepping stone between College and an apprenticeship or paid employment for young people with SEND) as well as the ongoing work experience for students.

eBay at WESC Foundation in the 21st century

From its modest early beginnings the eBay shop has grown to turn over around £40k per year, all without forgetting its reason for being – to give opportunities for the students and young people at WESC Foundation.

In January 2021 we sold over 1,500 items, almost all of which are donations to the charity or our social enterprise shops. The range is huge too, including everything from clothing and bric-a-brac to electrical appliances, books, music and pretty much anything that we think will raise money for our charity.

The positive feedback score has grown to over 18,600 as of January 2021. All of this work – and the income raised from eBay – is reinvested to support the vocational learning of our young people.

Mark is still with the team, and has developed from a young man with no work experience into a qualified manager  (ILM Level 5 in leadership and Management). He looks after two members of staff working on the eBay project, together with a wider role providing support to our social enterprise shops.

Harry and Mark standing in front of clothes rails in the eBay store
Mark Vandenberg (R) with eBay team member Harry

eBay as a platform has changed in the 12 years since we started selling out of that tiny office. The eBay for Charity programme supports charities like WESC Foundation with accredited training programmes for our team, COVID-19 support, other opportunities for eBay revenue generation and more.

The shop has now moved into new premises with separate storerooms and a small office. All the current staff are registered Severely Sight Impaired, and understand some of the challenges that our young people face.

The environment has been adapted accordingly, including a giant LCD display screen linked to an iPad (for magnification) and innovative talking till (which allows people with vision impairment to use a touch screen EPOS till for the first time anywhere in the UK, and possibly further afield).

Products are also grouped in ways that support different levels of vision (e.g. by colour or category rather than simply by a reference number or barcode), and Braille is available for those who can read it.

Clothes rails full of items on hangers
Clothes separated for easy processing

A changing student cohort

Over the years the needs of the students at WESC Foundation have also changed. Almost all our students now have other additional or complex needs including Cerebral Palsy, autism, severe learning difficulties or degenerative conditions like Batten’s Disease. Andrew, Mark and the team have made sure that the eBay store is still meeting the needs of our students.

We still work with staff in the school and college to plan individual vocational learning to help meet each individual’s own targets for that term. A lot of our young people work towards reaching small but incredibly transformative goals that we hope will support their independence in the future.

This might include:

  • sorting tiny buttons to develop fine motor skills
  • grouping products by colour block to make the most of their useful vision
  • packing items for dispatch and learning to handle items of different weights or textures
  • working in an unfamiliar environment and with new people
  • using new technology like a magnifier, camera or talking till
Jeff sorting through clothes on eBay

How you can help

The easiest thing to do is browse our eBay store. There are thousands of items for sale, and every purchase will go towards our charity’s work.

If you’re having a clear-out during lockdown then you might also be interested in selling on eBay. You can sell for charity and choose to donate some of your sales back to a charity like WESC Foundation.

You can also make a cash donation to make sure that WESC Foundation can continue to support young people with vision impairment and complex needs.


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