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Disability Enterprise Creates a Buzz Around Employment

29 May 2017 at 8:49 am
Wendy Williams
An initiative to build bee frames to be sold to beekeepers around the country is helping people with disability enter the workforce.

Wendy Williams | 29 May 2017 at 8:49 am


Disability Enterprise Creates a Buzz Around Employment
29 May 2017 at 8:49 am

An initiative to build bee frames to be sold to beekeepers around the country is helping people with disability enter the workforce.

Coffs Harbour-based not for profit New Horizons has launched an Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE) which employs 36 people with varying disabilities to build wooden bee frames.

The idea originated from Phil Kethel, a local man with an intellectual disability who had been making bee frames with his parents Bruce and Elizabeth for more than 15 years in their back shed.

Kethel had recently had to “pack up shop” due to noise complaints and, with his father, had approached New Horizons to find work.

New Horizons Packing Centre manager Anthony Marziano told Pro Bono News he saw an “one in a million chance” to create work not just for Kethel, but for other people with disability.

“Somewhere in about February or March of last year, an elderly gentleman approaching 70 walked in here with his head down by the name of Bruce Kethel, and said would you by any chance have a job for my son,” Marziano said.

Phil Kethel in his workshop

Phil Kethel in his workshop.

“[Phil] had never been in an environment where he could socially interact so he had that difficulty, but he was very good at carpentry and I thought well here is an opportunity to not only help this guy and his son but also to help my ADE.”

Marziano said he had previously struggled to find work for people with disability in Coffs Harbour.

“In Coffs Harbour there is no manufacturing, there is nothing here, it is extremely difficult to get people with disability any type of work,” he said.

“I was hired two years ago, specifically as a commercial manager… to try and find work for these people to make this facility, for the first time in 30 years at least break even, and after two years I was about to give up. I couldn’t do it, I had walked into every factory, every building, spoken to the mayor, tried everything to try and get work for these people and just no one would come to the party and there was nothing out there.

“But here was the opportunity to manufacture our own product. I went up and had a look at the farm and had a look at the machines, put an application through to our CEO and the board of directors and after a lot of toing and froing and months and months of carrying on, they finally gave me the money, I bought the machines and hired Phil, and in September we started making bee frames.”

Bruce Kethel told Pro Bono News it was a “win-win for both sides”.

“I was desperately looking for a contact where I could get someone to do something with it [the bee frame business]… [and] they were desperate looking for work themselves so it has been a win win for both sides,” Kethel said.

“My wife and I, were both concerned at keeping Phillip occupied and keeping him doing things that he wants to do. He’s got the ideas and that, the challenge is to do these things and we both help him out.

“When we were shutting down we helped him for three months, four months, my wife worked flat out with him and helped him finish up the orders that we had here before shut off time.

“We’re a good team.”

He said he was very proud of his son.

“He keep’s going hard at things and wants to get ahead even though he’s got some disabilities and problems, he keeps up pretty well,” Kethel said.

“He had a brain tumour when he was eight, he went through a lot of trips to Sydney, my wife was down a lot with him there, he had an operation and had it removed. So he has had a lot to deal with. He missed some schooling and that with it and everything and it was a very stressful time for all of us but he came through well.

“He was having epileptic turns before that and after that he never had another one so it was great. He’s had no more relapses with it. He’s got his own car and drives to Coffs for work and things like that now, it’s been quite good.

“He’s been doing woodwork since he was 17 or 18.”

Phil Kethel in a chair

Phil Kethel

Phil Kethel told Pro Bono News he enjoyed carpentry.

“I started with toys after I left high school, then I got into making furniture and then about 10 years ago my mates father-in-law kept saying to me I should do bee hives and frames because there was no one doing them up here in this area, and after about 12 months I started doing them and it just got bigger and bigger,” Kethel said.

He said it has been good working with other people at New Horizons to build the bee frames.

“It’s been ok, I’ve just got to keep making sure they’re not doing them wrong and that. But I keep them going,” he said.

“Some of them are pretty cheeky but I keep them in toe.

“It is good.”

Marziano said after six months the initiative was starting to make an impact on the community, making an average of 4,000 bee frames a month and building a reputation in the beekeeping community.

“People were coming in off the street, beekeepers saying: ‘I heard a rumour you’re manufacturing bee frames here on the mid North coast’. And I said yes, and they said: ‘Well I’ve never heard of you and I don’t know what you do but let me buy 20, and I’ll just see how they go in my hives’. And this is what’s been happening over the last six months,” Marziano said.

“Now we’re at a point where less than a week ago I got a call from a beekeeper in Dorrigo saying: ‘I’d like to order 5,000 bee frames for delivery on 1 October’. A guy in Tasmania who Phil used to deal with before said: ‘I used to buy 1,000 or 2,000 from Phil, but I’m going to fly up there and have a look at your organisation and from what I hear from other beekeepers I would like to order 10,000 frames for you’. And I’m going what the..?”

Despite the success, New Horizons can only hire 36 people due to a cap on how many people with disability in supported employment can work at an Australian Disability Enterprise.

Marziano said he was looking forward to July 2018 when the cap will be lifted and the centre will be able to expand.

“I get phone calls on average one to two a week from people with disability and I have to let them down and say I’m sorry, I am capped at 36, I can’t take you on and I am turning people away,” he said.

“But we have our old friend the NDIS coming in.

“The only thing that will restrict me from hiring more people in 2018 will be the council.

“At the moment I have 36 people and the average who work is 17 a day. So I do have the scope and facility. It will only be the physical restriction of this factory that will stop me.”

Marziano said the main objective was to provide meaningful work that gave people a sense of purpose in life.

“We do customer surveys, and ask if they are happy working here and if there is anything else they would like to do etc and we get responses back that are absolutely fantastic. They love working here,” he said.

“To the community, to the carers and to the people themselves, it is an extraordinary thing to see the satisfaction on their face.

“Unlike people in other jobs, I’ve been in blue chip companies all my life, when I drive home at night, I drive home with a smile on my face knowing that I helped someone or a group of people. You can’t always say that in your job.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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