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The rural cafe helping people with disability into work

2 February 2022 at 8:02 am
Maggie Coggan
Without experience, it’s hard to find work. It's even harder when you’re a person with disability, in a small town with limited opportunities. But a new social enterprise café is hoping to change that, writes Maggie Coggan in this month’s Spotlight on social enterprise.

Maggie Coggan | 2 February 2022 at 8:02 am


The rural cafe helping people with disability into work
2 February 2022 at 8:02 am

Without experience, it’s hard to find work. It’s even harder when you’re a person with disability, in a small town with limited opportunities. But a new social enterprise café is hoping to change that, writes Maggie Coggan in this month’s Spotlight on social enterprise.

Over the past few years, the number of regional social enterprises across Australia has slowly been on the rise. 

And in the north-east of Victoria, the town of Wangaratta is embracing the for-purpose movement with open arms. There are now over 100 social enterprises up and running. 

The newest business on the block is Where is My Coffee?

Opening its doors at the end of 2021, it’s a café not only serving locally and ethically sourced food and coffee, but giving people with disability the skills and experience to find paid work. 

Operated by Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH), a national aged care and disability Not For Profit, the cafe have taken on 10 trainees with disability, supported by hospitality and disability support workers from VMCH. 

Profits raised from the café will be funnelled back into the numerous disability, early education, aged care, social housing and job and life skills programs VMCH runs across Victoria. 

With insufficient work experience being one of the most common reasons people with disability have difficulty finding work, Harley Dalgleish, the VMCH manager of community connections and disability services, said the café would be the perfect place for participants to build their confidence and their practical skills such as customer service, food handling and coffee making.   

“I think the main problem is that workplaces are hesitant to give people with a disability a go,” Dalgleish told Pro Bono News.  

For the trainees employed by Where is My Coffee?, it’s more than just learning how to write a resume, it’s about creating pathways and possibilities into work.

And he said that the benefits to those working with the team Where is My Coffee? went beyond the four walls of the café. 

“It’s about learning how to get yourself to work, and how you present yourself in a workplace,” he said. 

Community inclusion at its heart

As the head of operations, Dalgleish’s vision is that the café becomes a launching point for the participants’ careers, rather than their final stop.

“I don’t want all the people who come through our door to stay working for me, because that’s not really benefiting them, or the whole community. I want people to go and work in the next café down the road and I want them to work at the local pub,” he said. 

“Rather than being pigeonholed into one place to work, this is more about them having the choice where they want to work, getting the skills and then finding a role that suits them.”

With a background in disability work, café team leader Hannah Panter said she was thrilled there was now a place for people with disability in the town to gain the work experience they need for the workforce. 

“When working in disability, I had clients who were super keen to start some work experience to hopefully lead into paid work, but nowhere was interested in allowing these clients to come in and gain those vital employment skills,” Panter said.

Along with the day-to-day running of the café, Panter will act as a mentor for staff and the participants, as well as assisting with training. She said that having a business like Where is My Coffee? would fill a much needed gap for the Wangaratta community. 

“It is such a needed part of our community. It is essentially giving people the head start they need in life in a space they will feel welcomed and a part of the team,” she said. 

A café that’s home to all

All profits made from the café will go towards the VMCH programs, as well as improving training programs for the café. That said, Dalgleish said that creating a welcoming environment in the café was higher on his priority list than making money. 

“I want this to be a place that the whole community feels welcome and included in,” he said. 

“If a person with disability is on a one-on-one outing in the community, they can come in and the carer or the client will get a free coffee.”

But, he said that if the café was successful, there was potential to open more businesses across Victoria to expand on the impact they were already having.  

“If this takes off, we could have four or five coffee shops across Victoria,” he said. 

“And it doesn’t need to be a coffee shop, it could be a florist, it could be a retail store… anything where people with disability are given the chance to learn to work in a professional environment for their future career.”

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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