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Doorways to the Future : Warwick Farm

05 September 2013

Doorways to the Future, Warwick Farm

Warwick Farm is a suburb less than 30km from the Sydney CBD that has among it some of the most disadvantaged communities in Australia. Women are changing that.

Mandy Richards has a background in innovation, entrepreneurship, marketing fundraising and social enterprise. She recently returned from maternity leave to her role as the Director of Place Based Philanthropy for the Sydney Community Foundation (SCF). SCF, on the basis of the ground-breaking research by Sydney Women’s Fund, Portrait of Women and Girls in Greater Sydney, targets vulnerable women in the Warwick Farm community who are facing multiple personal, cultural, societal and economic barriers and want to access education or pathways to employment.

We asked Mandy, what’s been happening in Warwick Farm?

SCF has developed a place-based philanthropic strategy for long-term investment in the Liverpool area. The initial focus has been to work intensively in Warwick Farm.

The Warwick Farm program is anchored in the existing ‘Doorways to the Future’ TAFE outreach program.

A little history on ‘Doorways to the Future’

‘Doorways’ began as a joint partnership between NSW Health, TAFE Outreach, Salvation Army and Liverpool Neighbourhood Connections (LNC). (LNC is a local organisation which provides direct benevolent relief to disadvantaged people.)

‘Doorways’ launched in 2007 indirectly in response to food security issues in Warwick Farm.

In 2007 a Food 4 Life Market had been funded for the local community to provide access to food for local residents, but this required trained volunteers to operate. There were no trained volunteers. The Doorways program began in response to the situation. It has taught an average of 20 female students every six months ever since. The subjects range from Retail Certificate II to Certificate III in micro business operations.

Within a safe, community space, ‘Doorways’ provides the critical stepping stones for further education and employment. Participants have historically been unable to access ‘mainstream’ TAFE or other education-training and because of this continue to experience long term and even generational unemployment.

Participants face barriers such as lack of schooling, complex issues around long term unemployment, disability, English language skills, mental illness and other challenging life situations. Typically, the students are experiencing social and/or economic exclusion and require mental and emotional support.

Access and attainment of qualifications is facilitated by TAFE Outreach teachers. These teachers are trained in working with people with complex needs who are experiencing such barriers.

What it means for women in Warwick Farm

The ‘Doorways’ program is central to the Warwick Farm community-building and transformation project.  The success of ‘Doorways’ is driven by a number of factors, including teachers who can relate to people in a disadvantaged, diverse community; the additional support provided to students who have complex needs; the fact that the courses and curriculum are community needs based.

Within courses high value is placed on participants accessing volunteer experience. This earns course credits and prepares students with the skills and work ethos required for paid employment.

Tangible work outcomes for participants are also an absolute priority.

Students from the Warwick Farm area who have done the course have gone on from basic level TAFE courses all the way through to doing Certificate IV level courses, with some choosing to progress to university level courses.

The work experience component has provided extraordinary benefits and many students have found employment, often for the first time in their lives. A number of students now work at Liverpool Neighbourhood Connections (LNC).

One student is managing Pepper’s Place Café, the LNC’s social enterprise. Other students are employed as café staff. There is a student now working as a project officer and others are employed in a lawn-mowing social enterprise.

The outcomes for individuals go way beyond anything we might write up in a grant application, but consider the personal/individual implications of the following high-level outcomes:

Increased economic inclusion through access to employment;

Increased self-sufficiency and less reliance on welfare, family and friends;

Improved mental health and greater self-confidence;

Reduced social exclusion and isolation;

The creation of successful role models in families and community - around education and employment.

People success

Karen is a young lady in her 30s originally from the Phillipines. She came to the Warwick Farm project with her confidence and self-esteem shattered after being made redundant from her workplace. Suffering severe depression, Karen had visited the local Neighbourhood Centre and was directed to the ‘Doorways’ program. It was a turning point in her life. After becoming actively involved as a volunteer in ‘Doorways’ special events team she was offered a reception job and further training in community services. Her confidence bloomed and this lead to further employment in the community services sector. Karen now holds a wonderful job in a large NGO as a community worker working with foster children. She has travelled to America and will travel to Europe soon.

Penny was unemployed for 20 years. A sole parent with two young boys, Penny accessed the ‘Doorways’ program and started off with a course “Statement of Attainment” in Access to Employment and Training. She then progressed to her Certificate III in Microbusiness Operations and graduated in May 2013.

Penny works in the LNC’s social enterprise café, Pepper’s Place. She also mows lawns in the LNC’s other social enterprise, Greener Cleaner, and she has just been offered a reception role in LNC’s office. Penny’s very positive experiences have led her to take the significant step into studying Retail Certificate III externally at TAFE.