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2021-11-30 2:45 pm
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Meet Scarf, the social enterprise serving up more than just great meals

November 24, 2021
September 16, 2020
One of Bank Australia’s Community Customer Grant recipients for 2020, Scarf is a social enterprise that provides hospitality training, mentoring and paid work to young people seeking protection and those from migrant and refugee backgrounds who face barriers to employment. We chat to co-founder and general manager Hannah Brennan about the art of doing good in the time of COVID-19.

This time last year, Scarf was coming up to the end of its winter program. Eight trainees were about to graduate, ready to enter the Melbourne job market having spent 10 weeks learning how to take orders, serve customers, and master the art of the three-plate carry.

This year, things are looking a little different.

“We’ve had to reimagine our model and our programs, so we’re doing a lot more work online,” Hannah Brennan, Scarf co-founder and general manager, explains. “Scarf has typically focused on face-to-face interaction, so we’re looking at how we can continue to provide our trainees with those skills, knowledge and job readiness without coming together physically as a group.”

Scarf has been running for 10 years, operating a number of different hospitality programs in restaurants around Melbourne. Its 10-week Seasonal Programs (run in autumn, winter and spring) provides eight front-of-house trainee positions to young people keen to start their working lives in Melbourne. After getting a foot in the door via Scarf Dinners, graduates move on to jobs in hospitality and other diverse industries like banking, retail, warehousing and care-giving.

You may have seen – or even dined – at one of these events at top Melbourne restaurants like Uncle, Ladro, The Rochey and Bhang. Along with receiving mentoring from hospo heavyweights and past graduates, trainees get experience serving customers, using POS equipment, and building their confidence in unfamiliar environments.

Scarf is one of the recipients of this year’s Bank Australia Community Customer Grants; it’s the third time the organisation has received it. “We can’t run Scarf Dinners and events at the moment, so our ability to generate our own income this year has really been compromised by COVID,” Hannah says. “This grant from Bank Australia is very, very welcome.”

Hannah and the team have been using the funding to further their Job Readiness Program. For a lot of Scarf trainees, because working in Melbourne is so new for them, there can be a pretty low level of understanding around employee rights and employer responsibilities. “Unfortunately, that means that some of the young people we work with are at risk of being exploited in jobs,” says Hannah.

Part of the Job Readiness Program involves making sure participants understand their rights, and know where – and how – to ask for help. Scarf also assists with resume writing and interview practice. “During normal times, our interview practice would be face-to-face, but at the moment we’re doing them on Zoom,” Hannah explains. “Our trainees are able to have a go, and then get direct feedback from a panel of five or six interviewers. We’ve seen that as being crucial to boosting people’s confidence, and increases their willingness to apply for jobs and then show up for interviews, which is often very daunting.”

Wellbeing is also a central element to how Scarf supports their trainees. Many of their participants have experienced trauma, and their barriers to work can be extremely complex. “If your immediate needs aren’t met, in terms of housing, safety and mental wellbeing, then you’re often not in a position to find and sustain a job,” Hannah says. “You can put time into connecting someone with a job opportunity, but if those other pieces aren’t in place, it’s unlikely to be sustained."

A solution to this was introducing a Wellbeing and Job Readiness worker to the team. Neil Baxendale – a former Scarf volunteer mentor and long-time Scarf diner – has worked at Scarf for two years, and regularly checks in on trainees and graduates, supporting them with their wellbeing, mental health and job-seeking needs. Current and former Scarf participants can also join a private Facebook group, where important resources around mental health, food and rent assistance, training resources and job opportunities are posted every week.

When talk turns to a post-COVID-19 future, whatever that looks like, you can hear the smile on Hannah’s face. “We’re going to appreciate dining out so much more than we have,” she sighs. “Hospitality is this beautiful thing that brings people together and can have a really transformative power. If you look at the format for Scarf, where you’ve got a new bunch of trainees who are pretty nervous, but putting themselves out there, and they’re working with supportive mentors and supportive diners, with beautiful food and wine, it’s a recipe – pardon the pun – for really great stuff to happen. Talking about this, I just want to run another Scarf Dinner!”

Find out more about Scarf on their website.

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