From Community Project to Social Enterprise
Okay. So something my boyfriend has pointed out more than once is that I am the most enthusiastic of interviewers and writers - I love it so much that I work for free and spend all my money on it... but something I’m not so great at is convincing people to either buy my fundraising items or asking them to hit the Patreon page to pledge $2 a week. And he’s right! For someone raised by one of the most accomplished seller of new Fords in Australia in his day, I’m just terrible at asking people to part with their cash, even for a great cause!
But when there are literally over 67,000 reasons to do that, I need to start getting past my squeamishness about selling the hats that are currently the focus of the Diverse Hawkesbury Shop.
That number, 67,000, stands for the rough amount of people who live in the Hawkesbury. That’s sixty-seven thousand stories. Sixty-seven thousand diverse reasons to keep getting up each day, doing a scholarship-supported university degree in Psychological Science and holding up a not-for-profit independent community media project. Oh, and writing on staff with a magazine in an effort to pay the childcare fees.
The great thing is that I’m one of you. I live here, which is a great start (and isn’t always the case where journalists or other local figures are concerned). I too stand at the intersection of gender, sexuality, disability, socioeconomic disadvantage, ethnic and cultural diversity, lived experience of domestic violence, of mental illness and of the unique experience of Hawkesbury life. Most of all, I know what it’s like to experience discrimination, disadvantage and categorisation because I was born different. This, more than any Advanced Diploma or Bachelor of Psychological Science, motivates me to keep going.
What happens when you empower anyone like me with an education and an Equity, Disability and Diversity Scholarship (thank you, Edith Cowan University!) is that I will be filled with gratitude for that opportunity after a lifetime of disadvantage, and I will find ways to pay it forward.
The Diverse Hawkesbury project has received such wonderful feedback and has also manifested in two columns in local print and online media. It was initially supported by Hawkesbury City Council with a small grant to help get it off the ground, and now it’s supported by Northcott and funded by Family and Community Services specifically for the stories on disability and autism (until September). It has become a way for marginalised groups to play an active role in restoring their sense of agency and their visibility in our community. It means that I’m stopped in the street by lots of people; school teachers, parents, teens and small business owners, and I’m told at every turn how badly we need my project. It’s very nice to be given such encouraging feedback and gives me a rather big head and it’s so big that it gets stuck in the door when I try to exit the Richmond Marketplace and go to the carpark.
Compliments are lovely. It tells me I’m doing the right thing and the community has decided we need to be doing this. But DiverseHawkesbury.net is still created entirely by me, and mostly paid for by me. I may be the founder but I’ve got a vision that sees DiverseHawkesbury.net become an entity perpetually recreated and enjoyed by my community. Before I ask you to spend $18, I’d really like to describe that vision to you.
In the public spaces or empty shop spaces of the Hawkesbury there lie a thousand dormant opportunities for locals to gather and share. In the case of DiverseHawkesbury.net, we’re looking at a community-based independent media source that provides opportunities for locals to tell their own stories in their own words and on their own terms. On a very basic level, it addresses widespread deficits in basic literacy and digital media skills, and provides learning opportunities for any kind of local to come to a safe environment to not only upskill in those areas but share their personal stories, creativity, practical skills and special interests. This is held in a permanent space (I’ve been eyeing off the Hawkesbury Leisure and Learning Centre) with the odd outreach pop-up, and is paid for via paid promotions created by a professional team, the sales of a growing list of fun items in the website’s online store, and patronage via tiny regular donations by many. You can already do this via the Patreon page at the link here: https://www.patreon.com/DiverseHawkesbury/overview or just drop a one-off $10 or more at the website. Just scroll down to the bottom of the home page at diversehawkesbury.net and hit the “contribute” button to drop that $10 in the DH piggybank.
In the case of seniors needing skills with internet and computer use, we have a very real problem. So many crucial services are ditching phones and face-to-face service much faster than the seniors needing that service to remain fed and sheltered. We do have savvy seniors learning some internet skills at our libraries which is fantastic and they should try that out too. My project has a wider scope than just seniors and is focused on creating content, but when I think about who needs this kind of thing the most, my heart goes out to them, because that technological gap is creating real crisis in the lives of people who live right here with us in the Hawkesbury.
For others, it’s about job readiness. Some people don’t get the opportunity at school to reach a level of literacy that makes them as employable as they could be. I’d love to not only provide literacy training for these people but a creative way to enjoy that upskilling process.
Of course, I can’t talk about any of this without mentioning the youth. Our local schools are working hard to provide creative and digital media skills but they’re limited by time and budget. They’re also limited by syllabus and format. I’ve always been a teacher, and my style is a little outside the square. By dropping by my rooms after school and just cutting sick with self-directed blasts of creativity with digital media, it reinforces what kids are learning at school but it also provides a creative outlet and safe, supported occupation. Again, LITERACY LITERACY LITERACY! So important for our kids, and such a great time in their lives to ENJOY improving their literacy skills.
The longer goal? Providing a space where people can pay a fee to learn to code. This will help us to upskill the people who can’t afford to pay for that basic literacy, internet, digital media and tech service. Paying customers will not only receive that fun class and new skill - they will know they’re paying for someone else who can’t afford to pay.
And the whole time, the service is creating.
Creating written and video stories, finding and providing a platform for the creativity that exists in every corner of the community. Paying participants a little fee for their story, as another form of empowerment.
There’s a vision to this. I’d love to sell 25 hats this weekend. Can we do that together?
Buy a hat here. Help me out, guys. I’m so keen to lift this thing to the next level. Let’s build a base together.