13 March 2024

Shock as Green Shed contract goes to Vinnies

| Ian Bushnell
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Green Shed

The Green Shed at Mugga Lane. Vinnies will take over the operation there and at Mitchell on 31 May. Photo: The Green Shed.

A Canberra recycling and secondhand goods institution is changing hands, but The Green Shed’s new operator says it will be business as usual for the public and the 80 or so employees if they wish to stay on.

Co-owner Charles Bigg-Wither dropped the bombshell on Facebook today (13 March) by announcing that the ACT Government contract for the Mugga Lane and Mitchell outlets had gone to St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn Ltd after operating the facilities for 13 years.

The post said he had just told his 84 staff they would be out of a job come 30 May.

“As you can imagine, we are all just a little devastated!” he said.

But Vinnies said all staff could reapply for their jobs if they wished, and the organisation would, in fact, be advertising more positions.

The news sent social media into a whirl, prompting an outpouring of support, including hundreds of comments, including a call for a petition.

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Vinnies Director of Fundraising, Marketing and Communications Phillip Jones said it was unfortunate that the news had broken before Vinnies could talk to the Green Shed and reassure staff about how the business would operate in the future.

Mr Jones said the business would continue to operate in its current form, but it would evolve, eventually with a new name and added features and activities for community groups and schools around the reuse space.

He said it would be as seamless a transition as possible, and from the public’s point of view, there would be no change.

“So the notion that everyone’s going to lose a job is simply not true,” Mr Jones said.

“They’ll have the opportunity to apply for jobs and join Vinnies, and we want as many people as possible to come and join the Vinnies family.”

The tender did not cover the Green Shed’s city stores, which Mr Bigg-Wither said would close by 30 May.

The ACT Government said in a statement that there would be a transition between 31 May and 30 June when Vinnies would accept donations from the public at the Mitchell and Mugga Lane shopfronts but it may not open for trading to the public until 1 July.

Mr Jones said Vinnies contested the tender because the business aligned with its sustainability values, the proceeds would help fund its services, and it would offer work experience and employment opportunities for those less fortunate in the community.

He said the Green Shed operation would also allow it to accept donations of furniture, which Vinnies could not do at present.

The Green Shed owners

The green shed contributed much to charities. Charlie Bigg-Wither and Sandie Parkes, and Elaine and Tiny Srejic mark $1 million in donations to Canberra charities and organisations. Photo: Supplied.

Mr Bigg-Wither told Region that he and his wife and partner, Sandie Parkes, had no complaints about the tender outcome or gripes with Vinnies.

“The hardest thing is telling the staff,” he said.

He said this was the first tender process for the Mugga Lane site since 2010 and there had never been one for the Mitchell facility.

The Facebook post was just to inform the public, not to take a shot at Vinnies.

Mr Bigg-Wither said he would meet with Vinnies tomorrow to discuss the transition, including the possible sale of stock and equipment, and what the future held for staff, many of whom were vulnerable people.

“It’s happened. It’s a bit sad. People are upset. We obviously didn’t want to lose it. We’re not saying anything sinister is going on,” he said.

But he was surprised that Vinnies won the tender because he didn’t even realise it was in the running.

Mr Bigg-Wither said he would likely return to the public service while his wife would probably retire.

He said the Green Shed had proven that running a reuse business paying above-award wages without subsidies was possible – a “self-standing, self-sustaining business”.

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Executive Branch Manager for ACT NoWaste, Dr Margaret Kitchin, acknowledged that workers and the community may be shocked or saddened to hear of the change of provider.

“Change is challenging. However, this was a competitive process for a ‘zero-sum’ contract, meaning the successful tenderer needed to demonstrate the greatest impact and support for the community, rather than being ‘best value for money’ and Vinnies was successful in demonstrating this,” she said.

“This does not diminish the Green Shed’s contributions. Again, we acknowledge their contributions over the past decade, including their charitable initiatives that have supported our community, and we will be working with them closely over the transition period.”

She said Vinnies had set an ambitious target to reduce material sent to landfill by 10 to 30 per cent over the next four years.

It would also have a dedicated education space to deliver workshops, repair activities and structured education.

The new contract commences on 31 May 2024 and has an initial service term of four years, with possible extensions of up to another two years.

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I wonder if Vinnies will just divert all the good stuff to their refugee programs. Then charge Vinnies prices (like, double) for whatever’s left over. That’s gonna make it hard for the people loading and sending containers of tip shop stuff back to Africa and the Pacific.

Should not be surprised as you took over from Revolve who spent years setting up the original model. Incidentally Revolve was much more inclusive with their selections as well

A lot to be said for competitive tenders. Presumably there are performance checks. There was angst when Green Shed took over, but that turned out a great move

excellent organisation, nice people out front; improved the place immensely, sorry to see them go

I hope Vinnies provide a better service than the current guys. I go to the Green Shed whenever I need some stuff – but the ‘stuff’ is generally not well organised and it is difficult sometimes to find what you want. I wanted some cutlery last week – and this was all located it a very large tub with LOTS of other stuff. Thanks to the existing guys for the work that they do – but can we see a lift in standards at the facility. Easier to find, easier to sell, more funds…

Learn to read the room….

I wonder if theres more to this then meets the eye… on the surface it seems a strange decision…

Capital Retro5:43 pm 14 Mar 24

The average punter has no idea just how big and powerful The Salvos and Vinnies are. They, like the trade union movements, have tax-free status but some of their “executives” earn huge salaries.

It’s all about big government, big business and big unions when there is a Labor/Green government in power.

Why does it seem strange?

They ran a procurement, one bidder made a better submission and won.

How exactly do you think the for profit Greenshed started? Remember “Revolve” that had the contract prior?

VInnies is now basically a for-profit entity and will not provide the same service. As usual and consistent with the ACT Govt incompetence, the only winners are Vinnies, the customer base can go to h#ll!!

The business running green shed was for profit….

I’m disappointed as The Green Shed are local passionate recycling experts with decades of experience. They lead the way with recycling and are collaborative, innovative, community minded, generous. They should be given gold medals and asked how they can be supported to do an even better job, not have the rug ripped out from underneath them. Vinnies have a different focus, albeit a good one, but it is not what is needed in this situation.

So what is the penalty or more importantly the metric we can use in 12-18 months to determine if Vinnies has actually met it’s agreed reductions of waste going to landfill and not just obfuscate it by sending junk to landfill via another means or interstate? I’m very suspicious, hopefully I’m wrong

Amanda Kiley8:58 am 14 Mar 24

Have you tried to donate to Vinnies lately? I was all but accosted by a volunteer a couple of months ago and stood there dumbfounded as she ripped open the plastic bags and rifled through the pristine cushions I was donating. One white one happened to have a minute mark on it and she threw it at me stating they don’t take marked cushions. I was absolutely humiliated and swore that was my last donation to Vinnies – material or monetary. Another “fantastic” decision by our crappy Labor government. When will Canberran’s wake up and vote out this incompetent and self serving group of amateurs?

Margaret Freemantle1:27 pm 14 Mar 24

What is the problem? Doing something that works much better for community??

Clearly it didn’t work for that person. And I’ve had a similar experience with Vinnie’s and donations in the past.

The government clearly doesn’t understand the costs of doing business. It’s time we changed the “lease” on running the ACT later this year.

You said it well
St Vinnie’s is into pricing itself out of the opshop market and it is just the ACT Government claiming its is looking into transparency which to.me means nothing but BS

Patrick Power1:07 am 14 Mar 24

Awful. Can’t wait for Vinnies to organise everything by colour, flip the valuable stuff online/to wholesalers, and charge a ton for the privilege. Op shops are a terrible experience these days and while the green shed isn’t perfect for what I want (seriously, who needs to strip everything out of old PCs and damage the mobo/case in the process?), but when it works, it really works (getting an IBM server for $10 will always be a highlight) and there’s no way something like Vinnies could match it.

First it was Tenants Union ACT (that contract went to Legal Aid ACT), and now this. Tenants Union ACT also had to shut down. All the big players are taking over leaving for no small players to chance. Canberrans are worse off overall because of this.

Vinnies charge about ten times what the Green Shed does.

I am outraged at this decision – handing all that excellent work over to Vinnies to put their ‘curated’ colour coordinated spin on everything and then charge outrageous prices. It was the only place to go to rummage and find what you are looking for for a project at a reasonable price. Plus they gave to DIFFERENT charities. I’m guessing the wonderful shop in Civic will also go! Incredibly bad decision by this government . I’d like to know how they got away with it – the rationale behind it! It beggars belief!

The Green Shed itself is not going anywhere, just the commercial operators are being replaced by a charity. I can’t see how that could be a bad thing. The Green Shed does NOT sell the best of what it donates (such as collectible things). These can be found on Facebook Marketplace being sold by current or former employees if you know what to look for. Or in the front yards of current employees. It also currently donates very little of the profits it makes from others generosity to charity. Bring on the new operators, I look forward to seeing what they do.

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