Branxton op-shop volunteers proud to be back in action after lockdown

In the midst of the pandemic, the re-opening of a local op-shop has sparked a little bit of hope in the Hunter community.

With Coronavirus restrictions continuing to ease, the Branxton Boutique Anglican Op Shop, operating since 1990, is proud to have unlatched the doors, restocked the walls and introduced new opening hours.

Situated on Cessnock Road Branxton, across the road from the Royal Federal Hotel, the store has been hailed as the 'One Stop Op Shop' due to its wide selection of quality good clothing, books, furniture, toys and more. The hard decision to close the doors to the public was announced April 29 on their Facebook page, due to the increasing Coronavirus concerns. Following the recent change to regulations, volunteer Connie Edgar said the community support towards their re-opening has been overwhelming.

Branxton Boutique Anglican Op-Shop volunteers welcoming the community back after being closed for two months. (Left to right) Liz Underhill, Chelsea Bailey, Erica Hodges (middle front), Meredith Hunt & Connie Edgar.

Branxton Boutique Anglican Op-Shop volunteers welcoming the community back after being closed for two months. (Left to right) Liz Underhill, Chelsea Bailey, Erica Hodges (middle front), Meredith Hunt & Connie Edgar.

"During lock down, we felt disconnected from the community and the community all really missed us," Ms Edgar said.

"When we re-opened [June 23], so many people came in and said 'Thank goodness, we've missed you so much'."

When the store initially closed, donations continued to build up at a time where they were not allowed to be accepted, with volunteers having the difficult task of dispensing them.

"We lost months of collected items. That did deplete our stocks, but, since we've opened, donations are coming in thick and fast."

Calling the team "family", Ms Edgar said the store thrives on a strong community spirit, however, additional safety measures have been put in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19. These precautions include; reducing volunteers to allow for social distancing, all team members wearing masks and gloves where necessary, quarantining the donations for 72 hours before sorting and stocking, providing hand sanitiser around the store, and having a sign in book at the front entrance.

"We started recording everybody's names, date, time, and their contact number, just in case somebody that was in the shop at some stage tests positive," Ms Edgar said.

"We've had very little resistance. People come in now, use the hand sanitiser and expect us to take their names and phone number.

"It's like this is a normal expectation."

This attitude has been recognised by other volunteers with long standing member Meredith Hunt saying it is something everyone is getting used to.

"We're all a bit more weary because the few of us that are here are closer to 70 than 60. We are finding we have to adjust how we do things.

"It's something we have to get used to because the repercussions of not adhering to protecting ourselves and others are a bit frightening."

Leading up to the annual National Op Shop Week, being held September 28th - October 4th, the volunteers are reminiscing about their annual fashion parade. First taking place in 1998, the parade is said to be quite popular within the community, sharing the importance charity stores play across the country. This is even more vital during the pandemic, with the week encouraging people to re-discover the excitement of op-shopping, while helping charities boost stocks and sales. The money raised from the op shop stays local, supporting the Branxton Greta Lochinvar Parish.

Unfortunately, due to the current climate, the parade will not be held this year, however, they are hoping to recommence in 2021 and encouraging people to still participate in their own way by supporting the store.

"It was a decision that wasn't taken lightly. We persevered to start off with thinking we could, but then it just became not feasible with distancing. We would have only been able to have about 25 people in the venue," Ms Edgar said.

"It was going to be too hard and we weren't going to get the satisfaction if we went ahead so we decided to postpone it for twelve months."

Meanwhile, Ms Hunt said the store boasts a range of fresh donations, familiar friendly faces and a little "something special". The new opening hours are Tuesday and Thursday from 9am - 3pm, with donations being accepted from 10a