Breaking down barriers and kicking goals
18 May 2020 at 8:24 am
It’s no secret that Australians are passionate about sport, but for some the opportunity to participate isn’t there. It’s something Joanne Rockwell, the CEO of Boots for All, is trying to change. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
For most sporting activities a pair of decent runners is the starting point.
But when Rockwell got talking with a family from the remote Northern Territory community Maningrida, she realised that reaching that first step was often the thing stopping kids and adults from participating in sport.
So she set up Boots for All in 2006. The charity sends out rejuvenated second-hand footy boots all over Australia, equipping those who can’t afford new boots or sporting equipment with a way to get involved in their favourite sport and their community.
Over 40,000 pairs of footy boots have been redistributed to children and adults across the country since the organisation first set up shop.
And in 2014, the charity expanded into the world of social enterprise, opening a physical and online store that sells second-hand affordable sports equipment, shoes and clothing. The enterprise also provides volunteer and job opportunities for people with physical and intellectual disabilities.
In this week’s Changemaker, Rockwell talks about how the idea came about, the challenges of the job, and why turning to social enterprise has helped the charity achieve more impact.
How did the idea for Boots for All come about?
Back in 2006, when I was working at Melbourne Museum, I was having afternoon tea with some women visiting from Maningrida and we were talking about their plans to buy some football boots for their sons and grandsons who were heading into Darwin to play in the grand final.
That conversation brought to my attention that there is a lot of excess sporting goods in our community and lots of people that have challenges accessing quality sporting goods. Our first thought was to collect sporting goods and drop them off at a charity that could then distribute the products, but we realised that such an organisation didn’t actually exist. So we started our own.
What are you trying to achieve through Boots for All?
By providing essential sporting goods, by accessing end of line stock and sample stock that’s otherwise going to the shredder, we can dissolve those barriers to people being involved in sport. We also dissolve barriers to social inclusion by providing training and employment pathways to our sports store.
And what kind of difference has it made to the people you are trying to serve?
It provides people with opportunities to increase their skills and confidence and to be able to learn to work in a team environment. Many of our participants have successfully transitioned to either more study, back into the workforce, or into the workforce for the first time.
What does your day look like as the CEO of Boots for All?
It can range between serving customers in the store, washing donations that have been brought in, having team meetings, contacting potential funders, or hearing from programs which need more products. It’s always incredibly diverse.
Why did you decide in 2014 to open up the social enterprise arm of the organisation?
There was a lot of demand for good quality sports products at an affordable price. And because we were volunteer run, it was about formalising some of the volunteer experiences into a program that provided more specific skills and pathways to engage with those skills.
Obviously, our physical shop is temporarily closed at the moment, but people would travel two to three hours to come to the sports store to buy sports equipment for their kids, and end up getting things for the whole family.
Often, if families have to sit their kids out of sport, the parents have got challenges to participate as well, so it’s really great to be able to give them that opportunity too.
And what are some of the challenges of running the organisation?
Being able to plan in terms of knowing what stock is going to come in, it’s very difficult in this recycling space [because you have to] be very reactive. If a major brand calls up and says they have a big donation to make, of course we want to take it, but we have to be very dynamic and responsive to changing environments.
Coronavirus has also thrown a spanner in the works, but we are still incredibly busy. Community sports programs have obviously stopped, but people are still needing to be fit and active, and have a diversion from challenges they may be experiencing at home, so we’ve been working hard to send out sports kits to those who need it.
What do you love most about your job?
Seeing the benefits for people who get involved in their local community through sport and then have hope to make positive changes in their lives is really what motivates me to keep going.