Known affectionately as ‘the Oppy’, the Glebe Community Op Shop, this beloved community facility standing proudly on the corner of Glebe St and Norton St goes by the slogan ‘Glebe’s Hidden Gem’. It stocks a vast array of clothing, kitchenware, art works, plants, shoes, knick-knacks, linen, hats, books, jewellery and toys. In fact, you name it, and if you go searching, you may very well find it in one of the nooks and crannies that house their treasures.

The Oppy has an on-line identity, found at https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Community-Center/The-Glebe-Community-Op-Shop-1893267940904491/ and there you’ll see the amazing collection they stock, but be quick, anything donated will be immediately assessed and displayed and may even walk out the door before you do! You’ll also be able note that the street address is 133 Glebe St, Glebe. Unlike other second-hand goods outlets of the ‘recycled-retro-for-profit’ type or those run by various religious organisations, this one (despite being not-for-profit) does accumulate funds. The difference lies in where these funds go; all are put back into our local community. But more about that later.

This site hasn’t always been utilised for an Op shop. Some locals have recalled that for many years it was a butcher’s shop, run by the Lawlers, who at one time owned and ran four butchers shops in Glebe. Perhaps the site which is now the Robyn Kemmis memorial at the Franklyn Park Community Space at the intersection of Glebe, Cowper St and Franklyn St, known until recently as the ‘old butcher’s shop’, was also one of theirs. Sadie King reminisced that it was her habit to go to Lawler’s to purchase fresh meat for her pet cat, whichever one she owned at the time. However it ceased trading, perhaps some time before the purchase of the Glebe Estate by the Federal Government from the Church of England in 1974. It is noted in ‘Glebe by Max Solling 2011’ (found in https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/glebe) that along with 723 properties used as family dwellings there were also 27 commercial buildings. It is certainly one of these, and sits adjacent to an iconic row of single storey terraces with their distinctive green and cream striped verandahs. Those terraces were some of the first to be upgraded during the Glebe Project years, 1974 to 1980, and were often shown to visiting school and university students as exemplars of the type of improvements that were being undertaken. This scribe actually attended one such viewing.

Sadie King was of the belief that the Community Op Shop began with the support of Pat Hills, after the Glebe Project commenced. It may be that he lobbied on behalf of the community for the use of a premises for such a purpose. However, whether that was before or after the Glebe Estate ownership was handed over to the NSW State Government in 1984 is unknown. If it did commence as a community initiative it would have been in need of coordinated management, which may have originally been provided by the Uniting Church.

A film made on the estate in the late 1970s or early 1980s about the Glebe Project shows a brief glimpse of an Op Shop on the Estate, but it is not at the same location as today’s. It appears to have been located in Glebe Point Rd, possibly on the site that subsequently became the Cornstalk Bookshop and is now the Shop Gallery. However if you recognise its exact location from the still photo, please feel free to email the address of the correct site to me. Perhaps it had to be moved as the property renovations proceeded.

A still from a film about the Glebe Project’ (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vj5TozxG2RI&t=51s)

The present site has been the Glebe Community Op Shop (GCOS) since it was handed over to locals for that purpose in 1983. Housing NSW still has an interest in the Op Shop building, as the first floor apartment is one that they manage. It is rented separately from the Op Shop which utilises the ground floor space, but also shares the use of the rear yard with the downstairs tenant. The weekly rent paid by the Op Shop to the Land and Housing Corporation is very modest, a figure that hasn’t altered in the memory of the two most recent managers whom I interviewed for this story. Nor does Heather wish it to be changed. She did note that there is an understanding, but one she has seen no documentation to quote, that in return for a ‘peppercorn rental’ the Op Shop will put any profits it makes back into the Glebe Community, and that is exactly what is happening.

Julie Breckenreg, former Hope Street and subsequently Heart of Glebe pastor, confirmed that Hope Street took over the management of the formerly Uniting Church-run Glebe Community Op Shop in Glebe St in 2007. It remained thus until Hope Street discontinued its Glebe ministry in 2012. Management was under Julie’s care until 2014, and was subsequently taken over by Heather Murphy of The Glebe Christian Life Community when ‘Heart of Glebe’ ceased to exist. Julie actively recruited Heather, whom she’d known since the early 1990’s when Heather’s daughters had joined the Girls Brigade run by Julie. It was that Hope Street project which brought Julie Breckenreg to Glebe, even before she joined the Ministry.

Heather verified the butcher’s shop usage by telling me the shop was visited by an elderly gentleman quite recently. It was an emotional moment for him as he told Heather how he remembered standing in the shop when a small child, holding his mother’s hand as she purchased meat. The memory brought a distinct mistiness to his eyes, Heather said, particularly when he remembered the sawdust which covered the shop floor.

‘The Oppy’ at 133 Glebe St (image: Janice Challinor)

Although managed by Heather it is not run to fund church projects. Instead Heather practices a policy of supporting local people in need, as well as supporting other Glebe Service providers who have clients in need. An example of this is the practice of GAPP1 of providing clothing vouchers to men resident at Rainbow Lodge, the support service for men on parole who are trying to rebuild their lives after serving a sentence in a Corrections Services facility. These men can then redeem clothing at the Glebe Community Op Shop using these vouchers.

As the Oppy is so well known amongst the Glebe Estate residents in particular, Heather has a privileged insight into which families may be ‘doing it tough’ and assists them in every way she can. An example of this occurred just before Christmas 2017 when, in seeking information about local families who might be glad of some support from the very successful Christmas Appeal the Glebe Society made, Heather was able to provide the Glebe Society Community Development Subcommittee with details of several local families who then became recipients of some of that seasonal largesse. As one of these was a large and extended refugee family of three generations, with only some of the children being male, it was very rewarding to be able to bring them these seasonal gifts from the Glebe community.

In mid-2018 the Glebe Society Community Committee made an approach to Heather for support with the Kitchen Starter Pack Project (KSP). As Heather had already heard of the project through her contacts at GAPP and Rainbow Lodge she was very willing to contribute some funds to the purchase of new electrical goods for the Rainbow Lodge part of the project. At the time of writing the Rainbow Lodge aspect of the KSP project is increasing, requiring further purchases of new electrical goods, so Heather is again forwarding funds to the Glebe Society to support this initiative. In this way the project also increased the partnership outreach of the Glebe Society Community Committee into the wider community.

Another initiative the Op Shop practises is the ‘White Bag System’. This is a state-wide organisation which collects soft goods, clothing, toys and shoes to send to overseas destinations where poverty and destitution are commonplace. The GCOS frequently needs to reduce its stock as the storage space is relatively limited, so they pack up the less saleable but still serviceable soft items to go the White Bag collections. The GCOS receives 15 cents per kilo of goods thus contributed, and itself distributes White Bags to people who want to contribute used but serviceable clothing items when they are clearing out their closets. Even if the items are a little stained or perhaps have a small tear they are still acceptable for this purpose. Should you be motivated to do this when next doing the seasonal change-of-wardrobe chore, feel free to see Heather and ask for a White Bag to help the cause.

GCOS has also sent used items overseas. In 2017 it sent 100 kg of clothing to Sri Lanka in the wake of the massive flooding there. It also contributed three boxes of clothing to a Filipino orphanage, and sent donations to an orphanage in Nepal that supports victims of the child-sex trade, especially with formal garments suitable for bridal wear and for situations such as placement interviews, where a more formal standard of dress is required.

Asked about the source of such a significant oversupply of stock, in particular clothing, Heather confided that a lot comes from some community organisations on the North Shore. While some of the donations are too valuable to be sold at the Op Shop; one recent lot consisting of WWI memorabilia which she is passing on to the Australian War Memorial, Heather considers most very useful. She noted that Glebe is a great location for an Op Shop to trade in as Glebe, being an inner suburb, attracts people searching for vintage clothing and retro garments. She’d really like the City of Sydney Council to place a permanent sign on the corner of Glebe Point Rd and Norton St, indicating the direction of the Oppy. This might possibly divert some of those Saturday Glebe markets bargain hunters to its door. Perhaps the Glebe Society may be able to encourage the City to fulfil this wish; after all it’s coming up to Christmas.

There is another important contact between some North Shore communities and GCOS. A shed in its rear outdoor space is utilised by one group of volunteers, including some high-flying CEO types, for the storage of gardening equipment such as mowers, brush cutters, spades and hand-tools etc, which they use to tend gardens of some Glebe residents who are too infirm or physically incapacitated to do so themselves. They do this on a regular basis, and after each working bee they share a barbeque on site at GCOS on the last Saturday of each month. Julie Breckenreg and her husband host this gathering and provide the comestibles, thus maintaining some connections with her former parishioners in the Glebe Estate. Julie also volunteers at the Have-a-Chat Café at the Old Fire Station every Friday for the same reason, even though she no longer lives or works in Glebe.

The management and labour for the GCOS is all supplied voluntarily too, mainly by people living on the Estate. It is open three days a week on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10am until 3pm; 4pm on Saturdays. Heather as oversight manager is there Thursday while Turkish John is in charge on Fridays and Marla Priest is at the helm on Saturdays. Altogether there are another 18 volunteers who help man/woman the premises, sort and categorise donations, pack materials being sent elsewhere and generally make anyone who walks in the door feel very welcome. That is the way Heather wants it; a place of welcome in an integrated community. They accept donations of all kinds except very large furniture items such as beds, wardrobes, tables and lounges. This is mainly due to lack of storage space but if they know of anyone needing these larger household goods they will facilitate the exchange between the other parties where they can.

The preferred donations are therefore smaller reusable items of reasonable quality including clothing, shoes, toys, games, small household goods such as kitchenware, single chairs, lights, bedside tables etc. They will accept some books but generally receive more than they can on-sell. Consequently every year they donate many boxes to the Annual Glebe Book Fair. Heather also has the intention of starting a pavement library box at a place to be decided, but in the interim hopes to persuade her husband, who runs the Have-a-Chat Café at the Old Fire Station one day a week, to install a bookshelf there for that same purpose. So the ‘too many books’ they collect may end up being shared among the readers of Glebe in a more equitable manner.

The GCOS is obviously a very important and treasured part of the rich tapestry that is the Glebe community. Its intention, to ‘reduce land-fill with style’ is certainly a laudable objective which we, as fellow Glebe citizens can support. The benefit to donors is pretty obvious: decluttering of those useful yet no longer needed items that we all tend to accumulate but don’t quite know how to dispose of in an environmentally friendly fashion. Well, here it is, and right on our doorstep; no, in our midst, but far too much an unknown to many of us, and just waiting for our visit in the post-Christmas clear up. Shall I see you there?