One of the strangest consequences of the past year of lockdowns and the rapid switch to a digital life for many of us is that we don’t necessarily recognise how many small things have changed.

It now seems normal to wear a mask in a shop, to step on to the street to avoid walking too close to other pedestrians, or to pretend going for a walk in the unseasonal weather is actually fun.

Yet even when we do notice these changes, other elements can slip past. In particular, suddenly meeting people physically out and fundraising for charities has almost disappeared. With no one commuting, and city centre footfall a shadow of normal, the opportunities for good causes to raise awareness or money have shrunk.

That’s noticeable in retail too. Where before charities would have had stalls, stands, collections, bag packs, or events in shops those are not realistic under the current rules.

The impact of this was identified in the Scottish Retail Consortium’s ‘Report into Charitable Giving’ published earlier this month.

The report has tracked fundraising and donations to good causes from Scottish retail brands since 2016. There has been a consistent pattern where around a third of the monies raised comes from fundraising work, and around half are direct corporate donations; the remainder tend to be from specific measures such as the revenues from the carrier bag charge.

This past year the focus has shifted enormously. Based on returns from 46 leading brands – including the likes of Schuh, Wilkies, and The House of Bruar – we see a clear picture. With charities, and colleagues, unable to raise money from customers to the same degree, retailers themselves have stepped in to fill the gap.

Indeed, of the phenomenal £16.4 million raised last year, more than 70 per cent of it was directly donated by retailers as money or products to good causes. Perhaps unsurprisingly much of it went to NHS or care charities and those providing emergency food provision. While many industries claim they play their part in the community, retailers can proudly demonstrate they have put their money where their mouth is.

Hopefully as we move out of lockdown we can return to more normal, and indeed more fun ways of fundraising. For small local groups the opportunity to raise awareness of a cause or issue, or to bag-pack or similar to raise a little cash, can be a vital source of funding for community projects. For colleagues it’s a chance to have a little fun whilst helping valuable causes. All of which is a reminder that shops, and shopping, can be a lot more than just purchasing essential goods.

More broadly the retail industry is desperate to return to more normal trading as it provides an opportunity to return to leading the way on the big challenges facing Scotland over the next decade. Our members are already committed to a net zero transition by 2040, an ambitious but very challenging goal which will fundamentally change stores and operations. They are leading the way on improving sustainability in the supply chain and cutting carbon emissions during deliveries to stores through our Climate Action Roadmap.

The last year has narrowed the horizon for everyone. Retailers have had to focus on ensuring stores are safe for customers and colleagues. Yet even under these trying circumstances they’ve managed to continue to play their part in supporting the wider community and Scottish society. Even with the enormous challenges ahead to rebuild our economy for the future, retailers won’t rest on their laurels and are well placed to lead the way.

David Lonsdale is director of the Scottish Retail Consortium