ACT News


YMCA's Kingston op shop is being forced to close its doors

Her Yorkshire accent tinged with pride and sadness, Joyce Ovington marvels at what a money-spinner the YMCA's op shop in Kingston has been.

Entering her life by accident, the racks of donated clothes and customers and volunteers drew her in for 35 years, many as the shop's manager.

When the ACT government demolished Fraser Court's 140 bashed-up units in 2008 to make way for plush new apartments, the low-income occupants fled, but many have since returned to the op shop.

They rub shoulders with young, cashed-up business couples alert to the designer labels that embassies at Red Hill and Griffith and other Canberrans donate.

On the other side of Eyre Street retailers rue news the shop is closing at the end of this month, saying it generates more than $100,000 a year and, more importantly for them, lots of foot traffic into Green Square.

Mrs Ovington and a friend once played squash at the YMCA courts on London Circuit. She followed her into the op shop as a volunteer. She remembers the friend's husband, an Austrian Club member, organising the club's carpenters to voluntarily build the fibro and plywood building to replace their little hut and adjoining caravan.


Mrs Ovington arrived in Australia in 1965 with her husband Derrick, a Cambridge professor who had accepted a chair at the Australian National University's forestry department, and later as Australian National Parks director with responsibility for Kakadu and Ayres Rock (Uluru).

After a distinguished career, Mr Ovington helped at the shop, as did their children Karen and John and their three grandchildren.

Today boxes of golf balls, suitcases, CDs, books, strollers, belts and bric-a-brac fill the place. A shower curtain hangs across a change cubicle in a corner. Designer leather coats are $35, smart ladies shoes are $5 and men's ties, which could fetch $100 elsewhere, are $3. 

Some years ago, a tap and sink were added so volunteers could make a cup of tea.

Last week, YMCA chief executive Jenny McCombe told Mrs Ovington their peppercorn lease would expire at the end of this month. The car park site will be auctioned in October before redevelopment.

''Well, Jenny, as you know I am slowing down, I'm 85 and I am going to retire,'' Mrs Ovington had said to her.

"Jenny said, 'Would you tell the volunteers?', and I did and the reaction is not good.

"A few of them are upset. We've got a group of the older people that have been coming for 15 to 20 years. There's one man who opens every Saturday, which is our busiest day because we get all the businesspeople.''

Ms McCombe said the shop's fund-raising enabled many disabled children to attend holiday camps, hire special equipment and have one-on-one attention.

"I cannot take my hat off to them enough,'' she said. ''They are amazing, how they continue to go in and do this.''

Families from the Causeway housing estate are regulars.

"They come in for blankets and shoes,'' Mrs Ovington said. ''We know a lot of them by their first names, and they know all our first names too. You meet some nice people.''

A volunteer once found a young man taking refuge in a clothing bin outside.

''The Little Shop'' owner in Jardine Street, Terri Shepherd, said Kingston had lost too many coffee shops to the foreshore and she did not want to see another retailer go.

"We are very sad [to lose the op shop],'' she said. ''At least it offers something for children, it is still a family shop, not just for the ladies.''