It’s a bustling Thursday morning at the Blackheath Community Op-shop (BCOS). Volunteers are happily accepting donations of furniture, clothes and boxes of books, and satisfied customers are loading up the same. Passing by the racks of clothes to a large sorting table in the rear, I find David O’Brien, a serene agent in a storm of activity.
We repair to a quiet courtyard behind “the other shop” just around the corner to have a chat, David’s mobile phone keeping him constantly connected to the activities around him.
From difficult beginnings as an orphan in Adelaide, followed by 17 years in Catholic institutions, to the glitz, glamour and excess of modelling in New York and London, David has experienced the highs and lows of the human condition, and has shared it in his published poetry. A move to Blackheath from Bondi twenty years ago fuelled a desire to see community spirit fostered and valued.
“People are being diverted away from being community minded, they just need to be reminded of it. The kids too, need to see things happening – acts of kindness.”
With this in mind, David decided to start a Community Opshop, and worked hard to pull together other like-minded locals to help him set up a not-for-profit organisation. It’s one with a very clear community vision, grounded in such acts of kindness and generosity.
According to vice-president Murray Reid, “Our mission is to recycle from the community for the benefit of the community. People have so much stuff, and they have no idea how to recycle it. We want to keep prices low, and share as much as we can with those who need it. We also want to keep as much as possible out of landfill.”
The Blackheath Community Op-shop started in 2016, and now boasts two shopfronts – the original shop in the trade centre off
Station St and the newer store on Station St proper, which Murray describes as “Posh Op”.
All the staff are volunteers, and the op-shop is currently in the process of being accredited to employ people via Work for the Dole. A committee decides where to divest whatever profits remain after paying for the running costs. The aim is that eventually, every quarter, the committee will fund creative startup initiatives in the Blackheath community. In this way profits will remain in, and support, the local community.
David cites numerous Blackheath community concerns that have already been assisted by BCOS. They have, for example, supplied much appreciated materials, like books, garden material and stationery, to the Blackheath Public School, and even The Big Fix has been the grateful recipient of old prams and trolleys, that help our volunteers deliver magazines to each household.
As more and more stuff accumulates, a warehouse located in the old TAFE building in Lithgow is being used as a distribution centre to supply and help people establish “remote op-shops.”
David has already helped open, and supplies, an Indigenous-run op-shop in the centre of Brewarrina, and is establishing another in the Apollo Estate in Dubbo. The Mt Druitt Men’s Shed will soon be added to their distribution system.
“I want to grow the community op-shop culture, but not under the banner of charities – let the community take responsibility and own it,” says David. “And, don’t forget, all the kid’s stuff is free!” he reminds me as I steer my son away from the pile of toys …
Call BCOS on 4787 5727 if you would like to donate or volunteer.
Blackheath Boomerang Bags has started at BCOS. It’s a bag-borrowing initiative to reduce the consumption of plastic bags. Volunteers sew shopping bags out of donated fabric and make these available at local shops. They will be meeting upstairs at BCOS at 4/134 Station St Blackheath on Saturdays. To get involved call Anna on 04 0448 3720.