Volunteers shocked at decision to shut Uniting Ballarat Furniture Shop

A well-known Ballarat op shop lauded for its antique furniture is set to close, leaving volunteers distressed and long-term employees without certainty. 

The Uniting Ballarat Furniture Shop, on the corner of Albert St and Dana St, first employees on Wednesday that the store’s operations would be restructured and the store shut down. 

Closing down: Uniting Ballarat's well-known furniture shop will be closing after 30 years, with volunteers disappointed by the decision. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

Closing down: Uniting Ballarat's well-known furniture shop will be closing after 30 years, with volunteers disappointed by the decision. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

The store has been operating for more than 30 years and provides more than $100,000 for the Uniting charity services annually. 

Volunteers have been shocked by the decision to close the store, and feel they have been left in the dark about the motivations surrounding the change. 

Uniting Ballarat said in a statement they were relocating the store’s premises to Delacombe with a greater range of products, positioning their retail store with a strong commercial platform. 

Current employees were told they could apply for two positions with reduced employment hours at the new store planned for 899 Latrobe Street. If they did not apply, their employment would be terminated on January 31. 

George Davis, a former volunteer who acted as a support person for employees during meetings this week, said volunteers were “gutted” about what was happening to the store without consultation. 

“Part of volunteering is to build a little community, so you’ve got a feeling of contribution and self worth,” Mr Davis said. 

“But they’ve pulled the rug out from under people who have been volunteering, it’s just come out of the blue."

“It’s a very strange way for a Christian body to treat their volunteers. They’re gutted. They feel that their valuable time they’ve spent has not been appreciated and is considered worthless.

“The risk is for people who are their clients, that [Uniting Ballarat] will significantly reduce their funds to carry out services.”

Volunteers working at the store on Friday were told by Uniting Ballarat not to speak to The Courier

In a statement, Uniting Ballarat said they had come to the conclusion over the last two years that a larger format store could provide a great source of revenue for their programs. 

“The larger site will accommodate a greater range of products while allowing us to expand our much-needed services within the Dana Street Outreach Centre,” Uniting Ballarat said. 

“The south west corridor of Ballarat is an area under immense strain as more people come to live there, with pressure on jobs and services. Supporting the people there and being able to provide better services are the major driver for this change.”

“This is a significant change, but one we believe can bring advantages to the people we work with.”

Having volunteered at the store for four years, Janey Dealy said she would no longer volunteer for Uniting Ballarat since they’d taken “the care out of Uniting”. 

“It’s terrible, and really sad for Ballarat,” she said. 

“Unfortunately they’ve decided to pull the pin on it.

“We’ve got customers that come from all around the state because it is one of a kind. [The employees] know what sells, and people just love the store because they know it got different things.”

Another volunteer, Paul Webster, said he begun volunteering at the shop 20 months ago because of his love of antiques. 

“I’m disappointed it is closing because I have a great love of this,” he said. “It was a shock and a surprise.”

“I would really love to see the shop go on.

“All we have is a letter stating the full story will be given out and all information provided to volunteers at a meeting on Monday.

 “It is frustrating.”

Uniting Ballarat said by positioning their retail stores with a strong commercial platform, they are convinced they can provide the support the community needs to thrive and grow in the future.

Mr Davis said there had been a push from recent management to change the profile of the shop. 

“The significant part of the employed roles have been to purchase furniture at auctions, and there’s quite an art to picking what will be salable at a decent profit margin,” he said. 

“The business is based on purchasing and resales, and what they’re proposing is it will be an op-shop with auction visits once a month. They’ll really destroy the business that was there.”