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Corporates Join Forces for Disability Employment Social Enterprise

17 January 2017 at 12:14 pm
Lina Caneva
Corporate, philanthropic and government support has helped establish a new state-of-the-art facility offering employment opportunities for people who have experienced mental illness and long-term unemployment.

Lina Caneva | 17 January 2017 at 12:14 pm


Corporates Join Forces for Disability Employment Social Enterprise
17 January 2017 at 12:14 pm

Corporate, philanthropic and government support has helped establish a new state-of-the-art facility offering employment opportunities for people who have experienced mental illness and long-term unemployment.

The social enterprise in Queensland’s Toowoomba region called Vanguard Laundry Services has been established with over $6 million in funding, finance and in-kind support provided by corporate sponsors including Westpac, Westpac Foundation, The Paul Ramsay Foundation, AMP, Ian Potter Foundation and local philanthropist Ian Knox.

Social Ventures Australia worked with all the parties to raise the capital to establish the business.

L-R: Simon Freeman – CEO Paul Rosemary Foundation, Katherine McKeefry – St Vincents Hospital Toowoomba, Luke Terry – CEO & Founder Vanguard Laundry Services, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Helen Liondos – AMP Foundation, Sinclair Taylor – CEO Westpac Foundation

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull officially opened Vanguard Laundry Services on Monday.

The federal government has committed to providing $1 million to support the new service, which is the brain-child of local not-for-profit organisation Toowoomba Clubhouse.

Vanguard Laundry Services is a partnership between Toowoomba Clubhouse and St Vincent’s Private Hospital and was made possible when St Vincent’s offered the clubhouse a long-term nine year contract in return for building the facility.

Toowoomba Clubhouse said funds came via 29 cash donations worth $3.2 million and over $770,000 in pro bono and in kind support from 26 project partners. The organisation also borrowed over $2.1 million from social impact financiers.

The centre provides employment opportunities for over 40 individuals living with a mental illness in Toowoomba. It said the facility is the region’s only full barrier wall system laundry, and is the only business in the region with a career development centre working to find employment opportunities for the socially disadvantaged.

Luke Terry CEO and Founder of Vanguard Laundry Services

Executive director of Toowoomba Clubhouse and founder of Vanguard Laundry Services Luke Terry said the momentum behind socially-minded and sustainable business practices was incredibly strong.

“The groundwork for a lasting shift in the way business and communities work together has been laid by social enterprises like Vanguard,” Terry said.

“Mental health issues affect more Queenslanders than cancer and diabetes combined. Traditional employment programs have a success rate of 14 per cent in helping people unemployed with mental illness get to 13 weeks of employment.

“Our Toowoomba social enterprise programs have a success rate of 75 per cent for 26 weeks and beyond. We work with people every day in our clubhouse programs that want to give work a go. Social enterprises like Vanguard provide that opportunity.”

He said Westpac had played a pivotal role in helping to establish the services.

“In 2013, Westpac Foundation provided $10,000 in grant funding to Toowoomba Clubhouse through the Westpac Foundation Community Grants program, to develop the business model for its social enterprise commercial laundry. In 2015, Westpac Foundation was the first corporate organisation to provide funding to assist in the establishment of the social enterprise commercial laundry, through a $100,000 social enterprise grant.

“Westpac Foundation also provided Toowoomba Clubhouse and Vanguard Laundry Services with essential non-financial support from Westpac employees in the areas of human resources, web development, infrastructure support and waived fees.”

He said Westpac had provided $1.6 million in equipment finance alongside $500,000 of impact investment from local social impact investors.

“Not only was Westpac Foundation’s early support of the Vanguard Laundry vital in attracting other supporters to the project, but it’s More than Money skilled volunteering program has helped us develop a new website, write employment contracts and do graphic design – things we would never have been able to do on our own,” Terry said.

Westpac Foundation CEO Sinclair Taylor said: “Vanguard Laundry Services is a shining example of how social enterprises can make a real difference in nurturing more cohesive and inclusive communities by creating employment opportunities for Australians experiencing mental illness who are often excluded from mainstream employment.

“Not only has this remarkable project garnered the support of the local community, it also has the backing of leading businesses and the federal government, which are working together to provide employment opportunities for the region.”

SVA also provided strategic and commercial advice, identified sources of capital and philanthropy, brokered pro-bono legal support, recruitment assistance and support to realise this business opportunity.

“We chose SVA for their depth of understanding in innovative finance models and commitment to social impact,” Terry said.

SVA CEO Rob Koczkar said: “SVA will continue providing ongoing expertise as the business develops into one of Australia’s leading social enterprises. Vanguard is a high impact social enterprise and we look forward to continuing to support the initiative as it changes the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the Toowoomba community.”

Terry said that in addition to being an employment launch pad for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, Vanguard Laundry Services offered a unique social enterprise employment model, offering career and vocational advice, on-the-job assistance as well as career guidance, courses and training.

“All dividends from the laundry are re-invested back into the business to create more jobs or kick-start another social enterprise business.”

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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