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Britons Discover Ways To Cushion Recession's Blows

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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And I'm Steve Inskeep. Take what comfort you can from knowing that we're not alone. Britain has joined the growing list of countries in recession. Unemployment is on the rise. But the British are coming up with some creative ways to cushion the blow, as NPR's Rob Gifford reports.

ROB GIFFORD: The latest figures in Britain say unemployment has risen to 5.8 percent, the highest level in 11 years. And that statistic is, of course, made up of real people with real lives, people like 27-year-old Andy Marfleet(ph), a fitness instructor at a health club in the southern town of Worthing whose boss recently called him in to talk about that dreaded euphemism - restructuring.

Mr. ANDY MARFLEET (British Fitness Instructor): Because of rising energy bills and, you know, lack of membership, he decided to do a business restructuring. Unfortunately my post is one of the posts that were made redundant. For me personally, it's been quite difficult. But financially as well, it's been a massive blow for me and my girlfriend.

GIFFORD: They were saving to get married. Now they're using those savings just to pay the mortgage and survive. Marfleet says his generation has never known a recession as adults, and it's all a bit of a shock.

Mr. MARFLEET: I've not known any different from, you know, you expect to buy a house and it goes up in value, and you don't necessarily see the hard times.

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GIFFORD: But as the hard times have come, life, of course, has to go on. So consumers and retailers have adapted.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. NORMA RIDER(ph): This is quite amazing what the prices are here.

GIFFORD: Fifty-eight-year-old Norma Rider has been asked to look around for a good quality, but cheap wedding dress for her nephew's finance. They're getting married next year. But Rider isn't looking in the designer stores. She's looking in Oxfam, the charity shop best known for selling secondhand clothes on British high streets to support its projects in the developing world.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. RIDER: If you go to a proper bridal shop, it will cost you from 1,000 onward, but here you can buy it from £200 or even £100. So it will cost less than spending all that money that you can use it even just maybe putting for your house, for deposit.

GIFFORD: The manager of the Oxfam store in Cambridge, Rachel Middleton(ph), says more and more women are buying their bridal gowns here.

Ms. RACHEL MIDDLETON (Manager, Oxfam Store): Ninety percent of our dresses are brand new, straight from bridal designers and bridal shops where they've been used as sample dresses. We've had a real sort of splurge of people coming in, not just because they're saving thousands of pounds, but they're also giving a lot of money to a good cause.

(Soundbite of frock swap party)

Ms. JUDY BERGER (Organizer, Frock Swap Party, Whatsmineisyours.com): Ladies, three, two, one! Go swapping.

GIFFORD: As well as all the sensible things that people are doing to save money during this credit crunch, there are also some fun things going on, like here in the northern city of Sheffield where they're holding a big frock swap party. Most of the people here, all of the people here, are ladies, about 50 or 60 of them. And one of the organizers is Judy Berger of Whatsmineisyours.com, a swapping Web site. Tell me what's going on here.

Ms. BERGER: OK. Well, the ladies are asked to bring between one and five items of clothing. And they can hand them in at the counter, and then they get tokens in exchange, and they then go in and swap for whatever they want.

GIFFORD: For free?

Ms. BERGER: For absolutely free.

GIFFORD: Is this your first frock swap?

Ms. SUSAN ALIKA(ph): Yeah.

GIFFORD: What's your name?

Ms. ALIKA: Susan Alika.

GIFFORD: And what did you bring? And what did you get?

Ms. ALIKA: Oh. I brought dresses. And I've got a red skirt, green dress, a long black evening coat, and I'm looking for another item. It's fantastic, yeah.

GIFFORD: Well, I have to admit that I haven't come empty-handed myself. I have brought a little dress here. It's not mine, I should point out. It belongs to my wife. She never wears it. And being a bit of cheapskate, I thought I could get her a Christmas present, swapping this. What do you think?

Ms. BERGER: I think it's fantastic. I don't think you're a cheapskate. I think this is a really good idea, and it's really original as well. What about something like that?

GIFFORD: Very nice.

Ms. BERGER: Classic little black dress.

GIFFORD: Classic little black dress. Perfect. Judy Berger, thank you very much. This is Rob Gifford, NPR News, beating the Christmas credit crunch at the frock swap in Sheffield, northern England. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.