A Walking Tour of Melbourne’s Social Enterprises
Words by Madison Griffiths
Photos courtesy of Home.one and Reground
Take a walk through the streets of Melbourne to discover some social enterprises making impact.
Stop 1: Brunswick
I am sitting outside, sipping hot coffee on a timber bench, out the front of a café affectionately referred to by Broadsheet as a ‘hole in the wall’ in the heart of Brunswick: Home.one. Two young siblings are attempting to ‘drive’ their respective milk-crate chairs about at the foot of the Nightingale apartments, tooting as their parents cradle bagels in the morning sun. An old friend of mine smiles widely from behind the counter when she sees me. Home.one is the social enterprise of her housemate and best friend, Kirsten Pannekoek. Pannekoek waves too, but she is busy, for it is the first notably warm week in Melbourne and people are flocking for porridge, bagels and other hearty breakfast goods. Here, the coins I hand over for a meal go directly to a variety of programs committed to feeding schoolchildren in need and resolving youth homelessness.
Stop 2: Fitzroy
I’m a train, a tram, or a bus away from Fitzroy – my next stop. Raised on a sweeping, grassy farm substantially far from the city, Fitzroy seemed almost make-believe to me growing up. I imagined it to vibrate with the hot breath of youth in lace-up Dr Martens, who’d float in and out of trams before pruning the makeshift gardens of their makeshift sharehouses after class. My hometown seemed small and inconsequential. I wanted to go where magic, difference and change happened. I wasn't the only one; I can see the same veneration for the inner-city in Kaitlin Reid, co-director of sustainable waste initiative Reground, who nods warmly as I describe the town I grew up in. We’re in a small Fitzroy joint, Breakfast at Timothy’s: a café that donates readily to Reground. Raised in Brisbane, Reid grew up in a place where sustainability wasn’t the number one priority of her community. Kaitlin and her business partner, Ninna K Larsen, are the brains and hands behind Reground, which collects, recycles and salvages organic coffee waste from around 60 Melbourne cafés, offices and other venues in a bid to prevent it from ending up in landfill.
“Where are you off to now?” Reid asks, as I take the last sip of a glass of water. “HoMie,” I say, and she smiles keenly. Community is especially important for people like Reid and Larsen, who relish the thought of like-minded folks linking arms and combating social, environmental and political issues together – while basking in the things they like, of course. Things that make Melbourne what it is: stylish streetwear, delectable coffee and ambient cafés where – courtesy of free wifi and accommodating waiters – social enterprises like Reground can come alive.
Walking from lower Fitzroy up Brunswick Street feels as though I’m thrown back into inner Melbourne’s daily, cultural grind: the reason I fell for concrete, second-hand smoke and well-dressed rescue dogs in the first place. Sitting on the corner of Brunswick and Johnston streets, it’s telling that HoMie is so unapologetically visible. People bleed in and out of the space, where friendly youth adorned in baggy HoMie tees eagerly wait to tell you about the social enterprise they work for, and the difference they’ve been able to make.
Over a beer, co-founder Marcus Crooke makes his social initiative seem easy, although clearly it’s not; his belief in young people just trumps all of the inevitable struggles associated with running an ethical business. The streetwear label works with young people experiencing homelessness to give them the training and job opportunities to secure a brighter future.
“Just today,” I tell him, “I saw a friend of mine donned in a black-and-white HoMie tee.” Crooke’s face lights up. That means that people are at least talking about youth homelessness, he mentions. It’s an issue that people can wear, converse about and endeavour to combat in their own way. “Conversation is everything,” he stresses.
Stop 3: Melbourne CBD
The night before, I’d met somebody who had just moved to Melbourne from New York, a place he attentively described as a “not-forever-sort-of-place”, the kind of metropolis you eagerly leap into before staggering out a year later, exhausted. Sitting at a wide, open table in Higher Ground felt like my very own taste of New York, as if I had hurtled into the big smoke itself, with its 15-metre-high ceilings, the echoes of glassware and the enthusiastic chatter of large groups anticipating a special dinner. Special, namely because I wasn’t attending your usual wine-and-dine, but a pop-up event to support Scarf: a non-for-profit social enterprise that provides a unique style of mentorship to young people from marginalised backgrounds.
"Here, the coins I hand over for a meal go directly to a variety of programs committed to feeding schoolchildren in need and resolving youth homelessness."
"Community is especially important for people like Reid and Larsen, who relish the thought of like-minded folks linking arms and combating social, environmental and political issues together."
Scarf pops up in a new Melbourne restaurant every season. Through guidance, individuals learn unique and transferable hospitality skills, all the while being afforded the agency and freedom to essentially run a restaurant off their own backs. “It's just like that,” says Maeve Thompson, a former Scarf mentor who joined the organisation in 2016. “[You have] 16 people from different backgrounds [working] together to run a restaurant, and run it well.”
On the table, a flyer describes the individuals assembling to pour wine, answer kitchen bells and ensure a swimming night. Their interests, hobbies and favourite cuisines are listed beside grinning snapshots, which encourage diners to engage. “It means you can look around the room and identify the people you're being served by, like – ‘oh, she likes spaghetti!’” Maeve laughs. I observe how humanising that approach is. She agrees, nodding.
From the outset, the Scarf dinner seems like any other celebratory evening at a high-end eatery: a nice night that promises toothsome goodness, smooth service and a generous glass of full-flavoured red. And, in many ways, it is – despite the fact that mentors like Maeve will huddle in corners and proudly observe their trainees. “A little bit like a hair salon, I guess!” she laughs. "It's all about getting them through the growing pains. You eventually want to become useless.”
What strikes me most about the Scarf dinner is how it happens with so much pleasure and ease; how it manages to make participation in something charitable seem so leisurely. Like other social enterprises, Scarf makes it a priority to gently embrace Melbourne, as both a place and a notion. A love affair. A place with a vibrant coffee culture and love for streetwear and self-expression. A city that wants to yawn, to stretch its tired arms, and to enjoy a slow morning over bagels in a Brunswick laneway.