As part of our ongoing series, we speak with Uniting Ballarat Social Enterprise Coordinator Jamie Cameron.
How has your work been affected by the lockdown?
All of the Uniting Op Shops were closed to the public in late March. Depending on their size and available team members, some stores operated by appointment only to provide emergency relief in the form of clothing and furniture items.
How have you responded and what is the situation now?
To prioritise the safety and wellbeing of our teams and customers we asked all volunteers to stay home. We have worked on a gradual, considered approach to reopening our stores, starting with our larger stores and gradually looking to reopen all shops to the public over time.
We have reviewed and implemented new daily cleaning procedures, donations received will be isolated for a period of time before being sorted and social distancing measures have been put in place in all stores, with a maximum customer number being established at each site based upon its floor size.
What are the particular challenges you are facing?
Our main challenge is not being able to have all our regular volunteers in the space. The majority of our team are older than 70 years and deemed to be most at risk. Until government recommendations are changed, we cannot ask them to participate. Our senior volunteers are often our most energetic, enthusiastic and consistent team members. We look forward to the day we can have them all back in our stores.
Have there been positives?
We have been able to continue assisting those most in need throughout this time, which is one of our core functions in the shops. One positive to come out of our reopening in Ballarat this week was the sense of joy seen in our customers. It reinforced how much the local community is a part of, and value, what we do. To see our customers so happy to be back in the shops was so rewarding for all involved.
What are your plans as we continue to emerge from restrictions?
With our staged approach to reopening, we can reflect on practices and what has worked. We will take these learnings into consideration as we look to open the remainder of our stores. We have safety and wellbeing at the forefront of our minds at this time and will be taking gradual steps to return to business as usual.
In this testing time, do you have a message you would like to share?
This situation has forced us all to slow down and reflect on what is most important in each of our lives. I have been reminded of how important community is and how we each contribute to each other’s lives, even if it’s as simple as a short chat on the phone or to share a joke and a laugh. We just need to look out for each other at times like these.