About 30 years ago, an ad was placed locally in Yass asking if anyone was interested in opening a craft shop in the town.
The idea was for a group of like-minded souls to get together, share skills, conversation and, as is the way in the country, see how best they could help each other when the need arose.
That was the birth of the Craft Junction Co-Operative, the name tied to the Yass Heritage Railway Precinct, where the group secured its first shopfront.
Since then, more than 100 women and a few men have been part of the co-op. The name has changed to the Gift Makers of Yass, and they’ve moved premises a couple of times since, but it still works on the same principle: giving people an interest outside the home, the farm, the business, providing an outlet for them to sell what they make and, importantly, giving them confidence in what they make and do.
For one of the craftswomen, Glenys Ings, of Binalong, joining the co-op back in 2017 was the best way to become part of the community.
“I didn’t know anyone in Yass,” she said. “So I came here and found myself with the fun of making toys as well as meeting so many people. It really helps you feel that you belong. It can also help pay the bills.”
Members of the co-op set prices for their work and the shop takes commission to pay for rent and other expenses like electricity, phone and insurance. But the more shifts the makers do behind the counter, the less commission they pay.
The shop, which is currently located at the front of the old Liberty Theatre in the main street, is only paying a peppercorn rent.
Karen Visser, one of the long-time co-op members, says it’s due to the generosity of Yass locals, like the Liberty Theatre’s Touie and Denise Smith, that allow the co-op to operate – and thrive.
“They have been so generous charging us well below commercial rent for the shop,” she said.
“Because we’re a co-op we have to manage everything ourselves, we have to make sure we pay the bills. Profit is not our motive, what we’re trying to do is provide a service to the community and to our members.”
It’s not only the Yass community that supports the shop. They have customers who come from as far away as Sydney to buy their Christmas cakes, confectionary, homemade preserves and chutneys, olive oil, embroidery, jewellery, scarves and babywear.
One of the most popular items is the handmade Australian animals and birds. They come in every form and colour, including tea cosies and toys, in the shapes of echidnas, cockatoos, possums, platypus and mice.
“It works because it’s a community operation,” Karen said. “Everyone here has a connection to Yass. We might have members in Canberra but they will have a local connection to here. It also gives people a creative outlet they may not normally have.
“I think it works because for some members, it is more than just earning a bit of pocket money. It can make a difference to their lives.”
The Gift Makers of Yass are open daily from 10 am to 4 pm, at 173 Comur St, Yass.