A CHARITY shop forced to close for more that three years finally reopened its doors after it was burnt down in a suspected arson attack.

The Abingdon branch of Acacia UK welcomed its first customers earlier this month despite delays from key suppliers.

The charity, which supports children living with disabilities and mental health issues in East Africa, was due to reopen in April but the coronavirus outbreak meant it had to postpone plans.

Volunteers worked like busy bees to prepare the site on Bath Street for the grand reopening and ensure that the shop will be safe to visit in the pandemic.

Social distancing measures were put in place including a limit to the number of customers in the shop at a time and hand sanitising points.

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Perspex screens at the till were also installed.

All donations are now stored – untouched – for at least 48 hours before being put onto the shop floor, in line with Government guidelines.

Acacia UK’s CEO Janet Hayes admitted that most of the charity’s income comes from its three shops in Abingdon, Grove and Faringdon so the 'forced, but necessary', closure of its shops has been financially devastating.

She added: "Fortunately, we had enough money to be able to offer emergency food packages to the families of the children as they lost their income overnight as a result of strict lockdown imposed.

"With the shops now able to reopen, we are really looking forward to being able to continue to grow and develop our programmes."

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Supporters of the cause across Abingdon were shocked and devastated in September 2017 when the charity shop was destroyed after donations left outside caught fire and caused significant smoke damage.

Residents had descibed the incident as s a 'tragedy' and instantly launched a Just Giving fundraiser to help the charity, with one well-wisher anonymously donating £250.

Photographs from the time show charred remnants of shop walls and ceilings and ruined merchandise.

It took years to repair and refurbish, with many complications and delays on the way as a result of the premises being a listed building.