The Abbotsford Convent comes alive in pictures

The Abbotsford Convent is a rich artistic treasure nestled in suburbia. Spread over 16 acres, it was once identified as the biggest religious institution in the Southern Hemisphere. It now boasts a diverse artistic aura and is a breath of fresh air in the midst of a gentrified pocket of Melbourne.

The Abbotsford Convent is currently undergoing huge renovations to improve its image as a cultural hub. According to the Abbotsford Convent Foundation Business Plan, only 60 per cent of the Convent’s buildings, grounds and gardens are presently usable. In 2015, the Federal Government announced that the Abbotsford Convent Foundation (ACF) would receive a challenge grant of $2.68 million from the National Stronger Regions Fund (NSRF) to renovate the 3600 square metre building and surrounding land, according to the Abbotsford Convent website.

The photos that follow walk you through the Convent’s invaluable artistic community, home to artists, art galleries, educational workshops, markets and much much more.

The Abbotsford Convent houses at least one hundred artists, writers, creatives and wellbeing practitioners. This studio belongs to Asphyxia, an artist and writer who draws and paints exceptional dolls. Many of the artists welcome visitors, so knock on the door and say hello. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli
Artist Ralf Kempken has expanded his studio over the past few years as he increases the size of his artwork. Predominantly consisting of children’s faces and landscapes of Melbourne’s CBD, you may have seen his artwork installed around the Yarra. Read this YR article for an in-depth look at Ralf’s work. Photo: Catlin Matticoli
Ralf is working on his latest three-layered stencil artwork depicting the iconic Collins Street landscape in Melbourne’s CBD. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Australian Government bought the Convent off a developer in the 1990’s. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Contemplative Garden is regularly maintained by gardeners and landscapers. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Abbotsford Convent has a calming aura about it. There are endless hidden spaces to sit alone or in company. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Convent started out as a safe place for nuns and girls in the late 1800’s. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
There are now hundreds of tenants that occupy the offices, workshops and art spaces on the ground. These rustic legs were made by fibre artist Wendy Golden who has a studio in the convent. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
At its peak, the Convent housed 1,000 women and children on its fully self-sufficient property and farm land. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
While walking through the Abbotsford Convent, you will find a few of these money boxes requesting funding. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
Stone pillars. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
Every nook is covered in art. This photo was taken in the ladies toilets beside popular pay-as-you-feel restaurant Lentil as Anything. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
A handful of catering companies are located inside the Abbotsford Convent. One of them set up this fantastic table setting for a wedding held the same afternoon this photo was captured. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
Art installation found inside the Convent, hanging from an old staircase. Artist unknown. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.

Written and photographed by Caitlin Matticoli

The Future of Brunch

Brunch has shaped Melbourne’s cultural identity. The terms brunch and Melbourne have become synonymous, ringing bells that conjure picturesque platings that people salivate over on Instagram and Pinterest.

Due to its popularity, the concept is being rapidly reproduced in other parts of the world (check out St Kilda Cafe in Iowa, USA).

Interestingly enough, consumer demands have changed in tandem. People are on the hunt for clean, healthy food that is locally, seasonally and sustainably sourced. They are also on the lookout for a diversity of flavours.

“Breakfast or brunch out didn’t even rate a mention in the first edition of The Age Good Food Guide in 1980. But we’ve made up for lost time. Now, Melbourne-style brunch, with restaurant-level table service and plating, high-quality coffee and sleek architect-designed interior, has become an export commodity,” Roslyn Grundy, co-editor of The Age’s The Good Food Guide 2018, said.

Grundy said, that in late 2015, US Michelin-starred chef Grant Achatz was so impressed by the local brunch scene that he decided to add some elements to his restaurant in the Big Apple, the Aviary.

Moreover, blogger of Never Too Sweet For Me, Daisy Wong said her “family and friends who live overseas always tell me how much they want to come and brunch with me.”

“Melbourne style institutions are opening up in Hong Kong, London and New York,” Wong said.

Darian Szyszka, owner of Reunion and Co stated that his café has a strong commitment to ethical farming and transparency.

“We are proud to support local Victorian suppliers that help deliver their vision of food from farm to your plate,” Darian said.

At Reunion and Co. seasonality is incorporated into meals. On top of this, the Richmond cafe meets the demand for ethically sourced and raised proteins such as eggs and meat. Not surprisingly, its best sellers are the fresh green salads and seasonal vegetables.

Darian’s recipe for success is simple. Obtain fresh, transparent produce that is then properly cooked.

“We do what we do really well. People understand the difference in their palates. They are also political – they like to know where their food comes from,” Darian said.

“Food sourcing and farm to plate scenarios are bound to rise as people become more educated about ethical sourcing and locally produced food. It is really important to support local farmers and not import our supplies from overseas due to cheaper prices,” blogger Daisy Wong said.

Lisa too voices the rise of sustainability in brunch. She has noticed eaters to be “savvy” and applauds the ban of takeaway cups.

Similarly, self-professed food nerd and University of Melbourne PhD student, Sophie Lamond echoes the inclusion of sustainability as a core value. She also has a controversial prediction about the type of protein used.

“On our plates this might look like more protein from insects and more sea vegetables as sudden shocks could mean sharp price rises in grains, fruits, and nuts,” Lamond said.

Nola James, freelance writer and cafe reviewer for The Age’s Good Food charts the rise of other cultural influences.

“Our love affair with Asian-style breakfasts will continue to grow, too, expect more congee, more bonito and more kimchee across the board,” James said.

Similarly, Grundy echoes the popularity of a variety of cultural influences.

“Brunch might be congee, pho or kedgeree as much as hot cakes or french toast,” Grundy said.

Another area that has gained prevalence in the Melbourne brunch scene is the Middle Eastern cuisine. Richmond’s Feast of Merit provides sumac, Turkish delight, tahini, Persian feta and isot chermoula. Similarly, Carlton’s Babajan is influenced by Turkish cuisine. The menu provides a beautiful blend of rose, cardamom, dukkah, sucuk, smic and za’atar.

With a strong focus on sustainability and a mishmash of international flavours, Lisa, Melbourne based blogger of Lisa Eats Worldsums it up best: “brunch isn’t just smashed avocado and eggs on toast anymore”.

Written by Devana Senanayake

Residents seek justice following ‘Pattern of Negligence’

It’s been four months since 200 residents of Fitzroy’s Atherton Gardens, a housing estate located at 125 Napier Street, were forced to flee their beds in the early hours of March 29 when the sixth floor of the high-rise housing estate was set ablaze.

Now residents are seeking justice for a catastrophe that they say could have been avoided and are seeking legal advice in an attempt to resolve issues with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Following the fire, the Melbourne Fire Brigade (MFB) released a report damning the Fitzroy Housing Office, citing a lack of duty of care and mentioning several faults. These included a lack of smoke alarms and sprinklers and the build-up of combustible items – like a mattress that started the blaze, that had lain for weeks on the building’s sixth floor, despite residents’ complaints.

The Fitzroy Housing Office has announced they will be accepting all of the MFB’s recommendations, and Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing Martin Foley has announced the changes will be applied to all 44 public estates across Melbourne.

But according to one resident, the fire is just one in a series of incidents that Minister Foley and the Department of Health and Human Services, of which Fitzroy Housing Office are a branch of, have to answer for.

Ranko Cosic has been a resident of Atherton Gardens since 2001, and is fed up with what he describes as a “pattern of negligence” on the part of the DHHS and the Fitzroy Office of Housing.

He says that in the 16 years he has lived in the building, there have been no fire drills or inspections to ensure all smoke alarms were in working order, but he says this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A terrorist threat, rampant drug use in common areas and instances where the DHHS had taken nine months to address complaints regarding unstable or unsafe tenants are just some of the issues Mr Cosic has brought to the attention of the DHHS and Fitzroy Housing Office. His appeals went as far as the Premier himself, but he says his complaints fell upon deaf ears, and that the neglect goes further than just the Fitzroy Housing Office landing at the doorstep of Minister Foley himself.

“Since his election, the Minister did not come to our estate until the day of the fire,” Mr Cosic says of Minister Foley, who he believes to be uninterested in his position as housing Minister and unwilling to police the performance of his subordinates.

“Everything rots from the top; it starts at the head and transfers through the whole body. I have reported very serious matters to Minister Foley and it all gets ignored,” Mr Cosic says.

 

Ranko Cosic says the first time Minister Foley visited Atherton’s residents was when they took refuge in the Town Hall following the March 29 fire. Photo: Ranko Cosic

He also recalls personal experiences of harassment and attempted character assassination at the hands of the department, which he feels came about in an attempt to silence his efforts to improve living conditions for himself and fellow residents.

Mr Cosic remains defiant however, declaring he’s “not going to lay down”.

Fed up, Mr Cosic reached out to Yarra City Councillor Stephen Jolly, whom he describes as an ‘integral part’ of the legal battle: “I’m fortunate Steve is there, because who else would fight? I haven’t seen anyone else.”

Like Mr Cosic, Cr Jolly is tired of the pattern of neglect shown by the DHHS and Fitzroy Housing Office, who he says have ignored their residents for years, “and it’s taken a fire and media publicity [and the] threat of legal action for them to do anything”.

While Mr Cosic rallied 30 fellow Atherton residents, Cr Jolly recruited key stakeholders and legal counsel.

He hopes the class action will lead to changes within the department, whose behaviour he labels “dangerously incompetent.”

“It’s outrageous the way the residents are treated … the only time the Department is efficient is when you fail to meet your rent,” he says.

Residents of 125 Napier St are seeking a formal inquest of the fire, along with achieving a successful means of communicating their issues with the Department and working towards having these issues addressed.

Mr Cosic admits his hopes for the outcome of the legal proceedings are “lofty” and go beyond monetary compensation. He says he would like to see the Fitzroy Housing Office “purged”, and Minister Foley, whom he describes as “inept” removed from his position and replaced with “a minister who does care about private housing, who will go to the estate”.

Cr Jolly agrees with Mr Cosic, saying of Minister Foley, “I think he needs to go”.

Mr Cosic says for him, it’s not about the money, but social justice, and with the aid of Cr  Jolly, he will continue to fight his cause until he sees justice done.

Written by Alice Wilson 

Playing the field: should our politicians be able to bat for two teams?

Our constitution, in Section 44, says that those holding dual citizenship are ineligible to run for office in the Australian Government. With more and more politicians holding dual citizenship and falling on their sword, the stability of the Australian Parliament is being threatened. But does it really matter if our politicians hold dual citizenship? The Yarra Reporter took to the streets to find out if you think where you come from is more important than what you do while you’re here.

 

Johnny, 28, Carlton, works at Her Majesty’s Theatre

“I don’t think it’s an issue at all. I think we project this idea that Australia is a multicultural mixing pot and it seems really strange that politicians can turn around and say ‘we have to be Australian’. It’s a new country and we don’t have the long cultural history that other countries do, so it seems strange to pretend that we have to stick to this tradition that we don’t really have.”

Kylie, 22, Brunswick, Student

“I think losing elected senators is bad for our political system. The people elect their members and it’s not fair that they should resign over something so petty. As long as the senators are Australian, which they all are, I see no reason they can’t hold dual citizenship.”

 

Luke, 21, Caulfield, Actor

“Politicians should be able to be dual citizens. All the senators who have resigned in the last fortnight haven’t been acting with Australia’s best interests second. Their dual citizenship might enrich our nation.”

 

Albert, 22, Fitzroy, Student

“I don’t think it’s a problem – I think the main idea is that they’re willing to serve Australia and the community; I think that’s the number one priority. I think it’s important for politicians to know their history, not so much in terms of whether it would have an impact, but just in terms of having a knowledge, I think it’s important.”

 

Luisa, 27, Carlton, Nurse

“I don’t think it’s relevant at all. I think that’s the least important thing when it comes to them doing their job well. The fact that it’s stopping politicians from doing their job – it just shouldn’t be an issue.”

 

Vincent, 26, Fairfield, Finance

“I can see why politicians can’t be dual citizens. At the same time, a person’s citizenship can have a big role in how they identify. A senator resigning is probably not necessary; revoking their dual citizenship would be enough.”

Written by Nicholas Nakos and Alice Wilson

Faces of Yarra

Wayne, Fitzroy

“I grew up in Tasmania and moved to Melbourne when I was in my early twenties. I came here never having had my hair cut in a shop, never having bought food at the supermarket; we cured our own meats… I came here to study fine arts and ended up getting into massage, which was a good field for me. I liked getting to work with my hands and having that opportunity to physically connect with people… A lot of people in this city put a wall up between themselves and other people, but that’s what happens in cities. I’ve seen a lot in my fifty years though, lived with a lot of people: the Bedouin in the Middle East, Native Americans in Canada and Central America, the Maoris in New Zealand. The values in tribal living, community living, are so much more inclusive than cities. Everywhere I went, I was accepted as one of their own. It was pure trust and openness, acceptance. You don’t see that here.”

Photography by Ruwanthi Wijetunga

Subsidised solar anyone?

Residents Yarra wide will soon have access to subsidised solar panels through the Yarra Energy Foundation’s ‘Solar Bulk Buy’ program.

The program’s expansion comes after a successful trial in the neighbouring suburb of Richmond where there were more than 300 expressions of interest and solar capacity within the suburb increased by 10-12%.

The bulk buy gives residents access to market leading rates by aggregating suburbs of people and making a single discounted bulk purchase.

Yarra Energy Foundation acting chief executive Dean Kline said the program’s expansion will make solar power more accessible and affordable.

“The solar bulk buy, planned for early 2018, will give all Yarra residents the opportunity to purchase high quality solar photovoltaic (PV) systems for their homes or businesses at market leading rates.”

“This is the best option for homeowner’s eager to invest in solar power. The program’s scope means that we are able to demand quality materials with bulk purchase discounts.”

“This process makes it easy for households to make the move towards solar power because we organise everything from finding quality manufacturers, to overseeing installation and even project managing if required,” Mr. Kline said.

Solar powered panels installed as part of the program are predicted to have paid for themselves after five to eight years and PV systems are guaranteed for at least 25 years.

Saint Marys House of Welcome in Fitzroy received an eight kilowatt (Kw) solar PV system last September and business manager Kathy Hogarty said the donation makes a huge difference to their bottom line.

“Our services like hot showers, a warm place to relax and freshly prepared meals demand considerable electricity use and the solar panels save us about 10 to 12% on our monthly electricity bill.”

Solar piping can be used to heat water without gas or electricity. Photo: Joseph Regan

“That equates to around $2500 a year, which is enough money for us to provide meals to the homeless for a month.”

“The installation itself was quite seamless and a sideline to that it brought a level of awareness both to our organisation and the community at large where by people consciously thought about their own energy use,” Mrs. Hogarty said.

Doctor Jacek Jasieniak Monash university’s director of Energy Materials & Systems Institute said solar power is the most viable renewable energy option for those living in metropolitan areas.

“About 16% of Victorian households have solar power, which equates to about 400,000 homes. It’s a popular renewable energy option for metropolitan households because it is among the cheapest available and only limited by roof direction and size.”

“The average household uses between 20 – 25 kWh per day. To produce enough solar power to meet these energy demands a household would need 17 – 21 high powered panels at the minimum.”

“While it is unlikely that typical metropolitan houses will be able to go off grid, there is no impediment for local generation on a smaller scale that is used, passed back to the grid, or stored in a local energy storage system,” Dr. Jasieniak said.

Registrations for the Yarra Energy Foundation’s solar bulk buy are expected to open early 2018, for more information click here.

Written by Joseph Regan

Fussy consumers and the food waste fight

Anthony James, leader of The Rescope Project, believes, to reduce the surplus of wasted food the community must change its ideals of how produce should look. Fitzroy is set to receive an education on food wastage when The Rescope Project comes to town tomorrow, July 19to encourage sustainability for a brighter future.

There’s no denying the Yarra community is an eco-friendly bunch, already having done much to combat food waste through council initiatives such as Food Know How.

“We work with residents and households to avoid creating food waste in the first place,” explains Food Know How project manager Matthew Nelson.

Are we being too shallow in our food choices? Photo: Michael Moloserdoff

While community initiatives encouraged by Food Know How such as food swaps and community gardens, along with measures taken by residents within the home have gone a long way to reduce the surplus of wasted food, are our attitudes about how our food should look holding us back from winning the food waste fight for good?

It has long been a trend of supermarkets to toss fruits and vegetables deemed visually unappealing in order to meet consumers’ aesthetic expectations.

The Rescope Project leader Mr James said: “It’s interesting that we seek that idea of perfection in the first place … we get lost in the details of perfection as opposed to what counts in life; good healthy food from a healthy ecosystem. Whether an apple’s got a little lump on it is by-the-by; in fact it becomes a quality test of the real kind because you’ve got it closer to [its] source.”

Fitzroy is a popular location for dumpster divers Photo: Alice WIlson

Mr James isn’t the only one holding this opinion. Skip-dipping, dumpster diving, whatever you may call it; the growing trend of ‘freegan’ living is becoming a popular choice for those fed up with the amount of food wasted due to the community’s search for picture-perfect fruit and veg.

“A large portion of society has grown up with ridiculous regulations on how our food should look. Banana too straight? Throw it out. Apple has a spot on it? Throw it out.”

Ricardo Potoroo, began dumpster diving after becoming aware of food waste caused by food sellers. He wants more pressure placed on supermarkets to dispose of excess food more responsibly.

“Councils have an ethical duty to put more pressure on supermarkets and wholesalers to donate their excess produce back to the community,” he said.

Fellow ‘diver’ Gabrielle Paz-Liebman agrees. “Councils need to work harder to create some very strong laws around food waste, but not in ways that keep the power within supermarkets.”

While it’s true that supermarkets fuel our high standards, and should be doing more to ensure what is discarded is done so in a more responsible manner, is it down to only them and councils to shoulder the blame?

Anthony James says no: “Local councils are responsible for mediating and encouraging the community to get more informed on these issues… Where does responsibility lie in general? It’s across the board,” he said.

This view is also held by Bree Fomenko of Food Without Borders, an upcoming food rescue program orchestrated by Lentil as Anything, the pay-as-you-feel vegan haunt operating out of several locations across Melbourne, including the Yarra’s own Abbotsford.

“Broadly speaking, food retailers can implement actions to reduce the amount of food wasted. However, responsibility must also be shared by consumers in the choices made when purchasing and disposing of food items.

“As consumers, we’ve become accustomed to aesthetically perfect products and beautifully-designed packaging.

“For example, perfectly smooth, red tomatoes are often favoured over ones with a few blemishes, but the nutritional content and taste-factor may be the same.”

Once up and running, Food Without Borders hopes to work with food retailers to repurpose unwanted food, minimising waste and helping those in need, along with raising awareness of the implications of food waste and encouraging positive actions to reduce waste among the community.

Ventures such as Lentil’s Food Without Borders is a step in the right direction to further reduce waste in the Yarra community, and if locals can lower their standards while shopping, a sustainable future becomes much more obtainable.

The Rescope Project is on at the Bargoonga Nganjin North Fitzroy Library, 182/186 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North, Wednesday, July 19 from 6pm-7pm.

To register for The Rescope Project’s free event, visit the Yarra City Council’s What’s On for further details.

Written by Alice Wilson

New Laws Leave Cyclists Flat

New road rules are set to redefine Victorian arterials for both cyclists and motorists from the 1st of July.

The laws give riders access to all bus lanes across Victoria unless otherwise signed and include $476 on the spot fines for cyclists caught using their phone.

These changes bring cyclists into line with all other road users and are designed to streamline the prosecution process with police issuing on the spot fines, rather than charging riders through the expensive and time-consuming court process.

Changes to the bus lanes come following a five year trial on two of the Yarra’s busiest arterials, Hoddle Street and Johnston Street. The trials found that allowing cyclists bus lane access increased rider safety and reduced traffic congestion.

Acting Minister for Roads and Road Safety John Eren says that the new legislation will make Victorian roads quicker, and easier for everyone.

“Safety is our top priority – that’s why we’re investing in separated cycling paths and updating the road rules to move riders away from high volume traffic lanes.”

“These are common sense changes aimed at keeping people safe on our roads,” Mr. Eren said.

However, Val Nagle from the Yarra Bicycle Users Group believes that giving cyclists access to bus lane’s is only a start and much more should be done to improve rider safety.

“These changes are window dressing, cars going down these roads are travelling at 60 kms an hour and any cyclist who has any awareness of their own safety doesn’t ride down a road with a bus lane in it,” Mr. Nagle said.

Bus/Bike lane on Hoddle Street. Photo: Joseph Regan

“Personally, the only bus lane I use is the one on Johnson Street and that’s spooky enough as it is, there’s so many bikes and cars moving in an out, particularly between Smith Street and Hoddle Street, that it’s just too tight.”

“No cyclist likes using bus lanes, its dangerous but it’s the lesser of two evils, it’s like the choice between Stalin and Brezhnev.”

The new on the spot fines have also caught the ire of cyclists with many feeling the new law is unnecessary.

“I can understand the argument that there should be one sort of penalty for everyone operating a vehicle on the roads, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen one person out on their bike having a text.”

“This is not a real issue for cyclists, it’s just a law for laws sake,” Mr. Nagle said.

Distracted road users are a danger to themselves and others. Photo: Joseph Regan.

However, Chief Scientist – Human Factors from the Australian Road Research Board Professor Michael Regan believes that any legislation that encourages people not to use their phones while commuting will reduce road trauma.

“In terms of crash risk, the latest studies suggest that if you talk on the mobile phone while driving you increase your risk of having a crash by two times. If you are texting on a phone your risk is roughly multiplied by seven.”

“Using a mobile device while riding takes your eyes off the road, mind off the road and hands off the road, so I would say that in many ways using a mobile phone while riding a bicycle is more dangerous than in a vehicle,” Prof. Regan said.

A full list and further details on the new laws are available on the VicRoads website.

Written by Joseph Regan

Family Violence in Yarra

Yarra families that are victims of violence are lacking places of refuge and support, according to an online advocacy group run by the Socialist Party.

The Facebook group, We Need a Family Violence Support & Service Hub was created in December last year after the council released a statement on its website in the same month citing a 24.5 per cent spike in family violence reports over the previous year in the City of Yarra alone. This statistic was derived from the Crime Statistics Agency Victoria earlier this year.

The report was even more alarming because the average increase in family violence reports across Victoria was 10 per cent. The group was one of the key drivers of the investigation run by the Royal Commission which released a report in December last year stating five safety hubs will be built across Victoria, with just one of those five to be built in Melbourne.

Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly, a key member and spokesperson of We Need a Family Violence Support & Service Hub said they lost the battle when trying to turn the council-owned property at 152a Hoddle Street into a domestic violence refuge and resource centre. Cr Jolly said that the decision was a “slap in the face” to survivors of domestic and family violence in the area.

He also said that there is a possibility that the council will use the property, located opposite the Collingwood Town Hall,  for units and other housing development. Jolly said that the Yarra council’s main concern is money, but assures the public that he will “keep banging away” in tune with the new budget due to be released in August.

Annie Douglas from Women’s Health in the North (WHIN), a council-funded organisation and full member of Domestic Violence Victoria told the Yarra Reporter that she didn’t know about the refuge centre issue, but the increase in family violence reports isn’t necessarily negative as it may demonstrate that the ongoing funding and support of the Yarra Council is helping survivors of family violence be more confident in seeking help.

“It’s really hard to say what has caused the increase. Generally, it can be attributed to increased confidence in the system, an increase in media attention and public understanding that [family violence] is not a ‘private matter’. It is simply not acceptable.” Douglas said.

Douglas, who is the health promotion officer focused on prevention against violence and gender equity, said that WHIN developed a Building a Respectful Community strategy, for 2017 – 2021.The strategy, supported by the state government and backed by a further 26 organisations was released last Friday, and aims to help combat violence using a strategic partner approach with its supporters, Douglas said.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services is providing core funding for the strategy, that many major organisations in the City of Yarra and others in the north-metro region are supporting. Cr Jolly said that any strategy or resources are a step in the right direction, but reiterated that he still hasn’t given up the fight to fund more places of refuge.

Fitzroy library showed its support of WHIN’s strategy by facilitating a talk by Fitzroy Legal Service on Wednesday, July 12 in an attempt to educate the public on their rights when faced with family violence. The talk was part of  Know Your Rights, a series of regular sessions held at libraries accross the Yarra, presenting legal information for communtiy members. 

Fitzroy Legal’s community development officer, Jennifer Ward, said that having better access to information surrounding survivors’ rights empowers them to make better choices.

Ward said the main aim of the talk was to target vulnerable people who may not already have access to services.

The City of Yarra is “diverse and full of new migrants,” said Ward, and this is why the service is committed to providing good quality legal information to those who may not have the tools to know their rights and options.

Cr Jolly said that 152a Hoddle Street is continuing to be discussed as becoming a potential safe hub.

Written by Caitlin Matticoli

Cultivating workplace culture: how migrants are enriching this Collingwood enterprise

Consumerism, fast fashion and immigration are issues that are fast becoming household discussions. The ever-increasing conversations surrounding these socio-economic and environmental topics are making them much harder to ignore.

As we all struggle to be better humans, to find a way to make a meaningful difference, one social-enterprise in Fitzroy has already done just that. For almost a decade, The Social Studio has been employing a globalisation of a different kind using an untapped resource many Australian employers are ignoring – individuals of migrant and refugee backgrounds.

In February of 2017 it was reported that the unemployment rate of East African and Middle Eastern immigrants was averaging 33 percent in the first five years of settlement; six times higher than the national average. While, most migrants will cite employment as an integral part of their settlement, they often face hurdles in getting into the Australian workforce.

The Social Studio, situated amongst the cultural crucible of Collingwood’s Smith Street is a not-for-profit social enterprise on a mission. Founded in 2009, what originally began as a provider of design and sewing classes has since evolved into a successful, multi-faceted organisation intent on improving the lives of those most marginalised in our community. According to CEO Eugenia Flynn, the enterprise’s objectives are simple; “We use the vehicle of a fashion and hospitality business including a clothing label, retail shop, digital printing studio, café and a catering business to create meaningful social change”.

Through its fashion label, textile studio, and café, The Social Studio employs young refugees and immigrants, or those hailing from migrant backgrounds, offering employment with a creative twist. Employees are encouraged to express and share their culture, forging links between refugee and migrant groups and the wider community. Clothes sold in the Social Studio’s Smith Street store are produced locally, with sustainable resources to minimise environmental impact. Designs are affordably priced and feature vibrant, bold prints with significant cultural meanings behind each piece. The adjoining café, The Cutting Table, is also staffed by young refugees and migrants and serves a menu featuring a blend of East and West African fare.

The label’s designs feature vibrant prints all produced locally and sustainably. Photo: Alice Wilson

In addition to providing employment opportunities, the Social Studio makes it possible for refugees to get certified within the areas of hospitality and design. “Our purpose is to create meaningful and long-term pathways into employment for young people from a refugee or migrant background, and who may have experienced barriers to accessing education and/or securing employment.” Says Ms Flynn. “We provide TAFE level training, work experience, volunteer opportunities and employment in fashion, manufacturing, retail and hospitality, creating imperative education and employment opportunities and pathways.”

Since its beginning, the Social Studio has provided education and employment for over 580 people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. One such individual who has benefited from this enterprise is Abuk Bol, who worked as a seamstress in Sudan before she came to Australia in 2004 as a refugee. Abuk came across the Social Studio, after several failed attempts to get into the Australian workforce. She has since gone on to work for Brunswick-based bridal designer Mariana Hardwick and is now the owner of her own enterprise, Twich Women’s Sewing Collective, which sells clothing and homewares in her home town of Dandenong. “I was interested in clothes making and wanted to do something that could get me a job, being an immigrant and hardly knowing English, I decided to do the Certificate III in clothing production with the Social Studio.”

Abuk’s story is a great example of how increasing just one persons skill set can, in turn, work towards increasing many. The Social Studio champions multiculturalism and demonstrates that these individuals contribute to, rather than diminish the economy. “I now have my own store and space where I can help women like me get certification and jobs.” Abuk says.  “I would like to provide women, especially ones in a minority, the opportunity to get an education and a job. Or just somewhere they feel they belong.”

The Social Studio and Cutting Table Cafe, located on Collingwood’s Smith St. Photo: Alice Wilson

This sense of belonging is perhaps the most important contribution the Social Studio provides. “For students it’s developing friendships and broadening their community, branching out and become more open to everyone else.” Says Helen Kelabora, a teacher for the Certificate III clothing course the Studio offers. The benefits of an organisation like the Social Studio are as diverse as the services they offer to those they employ and to the Yarra community. For Eugenia Flynn, the is much more work to be done, “we would love to consolidate our work across the past eight years and create a deeper social impact” and it’s through the help of the Yarra community that this can be achieved.

Written by Alice Wilson