Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Melbourne in this Future Shaper series. We have asked a panel of esteemed judges comprising Peter Tullin (co-founder and CEO of Remix Summits), Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), Claire Ferres Miles (CEO of Sustainability Victoria) Pat Nourse (artistic director, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival), Simon Abrahams (creative director and CEO of Melbourne Fringe) and Kate Vinot (chair of Zoos Victoria) and to help us identify the people changing the future of Melbourne in the areas of food and drink; arts; community and culture; civics; and sustainability. In civics, two such people are Bec Scott and Kate Barrelle, co-founders of social enterprise STREAT, which trains young people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage to work in the hospitality industry.
Please tell us a little bit about your work and what it is you do with STREAT.
We’re the co-founders of STREAT, a food-system social enterprise that exists to change the menu for young people who really need a hand. We’re really passionate about ensuring that no matter whatever their starting point, we don’t leave any young people behind.
How and why did it come to be?
We started STREAT in 2009 because we couldn’t conceive that in the ‘Lucky Country’ we still had young people starting life without the security of a home, and without hope for the future. We knew that to really address youth homelessness you needed to address the root causes, not just the symptoms. We also knew that providing training and a real job were critical pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. In the last decade we’ve built a whole host of hospitality businesses – like cafés, kiosks, a bakery, and a catering company – where young people get skills and support. To date we’ve worked with over 3,000 young people, over 500 of them really intensively. The terrific thing is that we’ve served over 3 million meals and coffees in the decade – essentially that’s millions of Melburnians giving our young trainees a caffeinated group hug.
You’ve been selected by our panel as being two individuals who have a vision for the future of Melbourne – what do you think it is about your work that’s so visionary?
We arrived in Melbourne from Canberra in 2009 in a beat-up old Corolla. We really had nothing much apart from a new baby, a feasibility study of dreams, and some real grit. And goodness knows we had to adapt fast because the GFC had just hit and our original plan to build a fleet of street food carts didn’t really work out so well. But despite all the changes to our business model, we stayed really true to why we existed. And we’ve never accepted the status quo as the future. We’ve been pretty good at reimagining the future and then bridging the gap back to now. And we’re really grateful to have built the most incredible team of people to walk alongside us. Actually, to sprint alongside us.
What kind of future would you like to see for Melbourne?
In 2019 we declared a Climate Emergency and determined that our next decade would be at the nexus of People and Planet. We really believe that the world is facing an existential threat and the upcoming decade is the most critical one on Earth to date. This year we create a whole parallel stream of training and employment opportunities into horticulture and urban farming. Our goal is to play a lead role in helping transform this city from grey to green. We’re determined that green jobs should be the most prized jobs in this city, and that we can collectively start rewilding and foodscaping this city together. We’re looking forward to a time when you see as many gumboots on Collins Street as you do Italian leather shoes. Melbourne is already known as a global foodies city, but we also want it to become a global edible city. This city was built on the precious food bowl of the Kulin Nations, and we believe this city has an incredible opportunity to use food to reconcile past wrongs and to heal, and to celebrate the diverse cultures of this city.
What are you working on right now?
During the pandemic we started collaborating with a whole bunch of our social enterprise peers in a project called Moving Feast. It made no sense to collectively close our doors and send all of our gardeners and chefs home at the very time when our most vulnerable communities would be facing increased food insecurity and hunger. Last year we all grew 60,000 food plants, packed 30,000 boxes of fresh seasonal produce, and cooked over 130,000 culturally appropriate meals. This year we’re moving our collaboration beyond food relief work to new collaborative projects like creating new jobs into urban food systems, developing new ethical and circular food products, working to reduce food waste, and connecting more regional regenerative farmers to city eaters. Stay tuned for more deliciousness in the coming years.
What advice would you give to others seeking to make a change in your industry?
We moved to Melbourne because the city was indisputably Australia’s social enterprise capital city. And we’ve been excited to see this city’s social entrepreneurs continue to innovate, and we’ve been so proud to help a bunch of other social enterprises start and grow. For those really wanting to undertake values-aligned work, whether it be using their social or commercial skills, the social enterprise sector is such an amazing sector to work within. And we’d love to invite the next generation of change-makers to come and roll up their sleeves in our industry. It’s such a rewarding place to be working.
Why do you think equal representation is so important? And how is the work that you’re doing aiming to achieve this, namely for disadvantaged and homeless youth?
Equal representation is a measure of humanity, compassion and fairness. Which are things we value deeply. STREAT won a Human Rights Commission award from the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2019 for our work in the justice space with marginalised and disadvantaged young people – creating opportunities for justice-affected young people and working with employers to ready them for a diverse workforce who deserved better. We see the need for equal representation and pathways for people facing a range of systemic and individual barriers from racism, to bigotry, poverty and all the social determinants of health. We embrace and celebrate diversity and inclusion.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
With the food system being one of the largest ways we can reduce atmospheric carbon, the food we eat and the coffee we drink plays a huge part in our eco-footprints. The food choices we make should be seen as part of our love for humanity and the other 8 million species we share the planet with. We’d love to see people align their stomachs with their hearts.
Anyone you would like to shout out?
We’d really love to do a shout out to some of the most inspiring food social enterprises in this state – Cultivating Community, Collingwood Children’s Farm, Melbourne Farmers Markets, CERES, the Community Grocer, Open Food Network, Common Ground Project, Kinfolk, Free to Feed, Sustain, ASRC Catering. Wherever you can buy from them and support them because you’ll be helping create a fairer and more regenerative food system for Victoria.