By Mikayla van Loon
Mount Evelyn’s Yarra View Nursery has been awarded the contract to supply plants to both Lilydale and Mooroolbark’s skyrail stations.
The official announcement came a few weeks ago from South Eastern Program Alliance, although the nursery were quietly confident the contract would be given to them in the weeks prior.
This contract comes to a combined total of $200,000 to supply plants for both Level Crossing Removal Projects which are due to be completed in 2022.
Yarra View Nursery is a social enterprise run by Knoxbrooke, a dedicated support service for adults with a disability.
Through Yarra View Nursery, adults who have an intellectual disability are provided with an opportunity to be employed in a safe space.
Executive general manager of Knoxbrookes’s social enterprises, Scott Buckland said this contract is of great significance to Yarra View Nursery to continue supporting people with a disability.
“For us it’s all about providing employment to people with a disability and that sort of contract allows us to continue the great work that we do and potentially provide people with additional hours of work or even look to employ more people,” he said.
Mr Buckland said around half of Yarra View’s business comes from providing plants to infrastructure projects.
“They are significant for us in that they provide stability and sustainability for us to move forward,” he said.
“Traditionally, if you go back five or six years, the majority of the product we grew was speculative and we were growing it and hoping to sell it to retailers.
“Now having half our business under what we call ‘contract grow’, it’s a far more secure business in that we sell it and then we grow it and that gives us confidence to then to employ more people.”
Being a local business that employs local people, Mr Buckland said it is great for the community to know the South Eastern Program Alliance are willing to utilise local suppliers for the build of the skyrail projects.
“I think for this project specifically, there’s so many positives around supporting a local business,” he said.
“Then there is the added positive that we are a social enterprise as well and that we’re providing critical employment opportunities for people that may otherwise not be able to get a job.”
Mr Buckland said Yarra View Nursery would be one of the biggest social enterprises in Victoria and the biggest social enterprise plant nursery in Australia.
The nursery employs around 150 staff, which includes 90 staff members with a disability.
Knoxbrooke has been around for 55 years and started as a special school in Ferntree Gully run by rotary clubs in the area.
Over the years it transformed into a day service where one of the programs involved gardening.
“One day they decided to sell their plants at the local markets, found that people liked them and in the ‘80s, they flipped it into an employment opportunity and were quite pioneering in the ‘80s in setting up a social enterprise.
“They started with 12 people, who had the courage and who took the gamble if you like and we’ve never looked back. And so here we are today running three nursery sites and employing 150 people, it’s amazing.”
Not only does Yarra View Nursery offer employment opportunities but a number of training opportunities as well.
“Being a social enterprise everything we do, every dollar we earn goes back into investing in our people, whether it’s employing more people or training people,” Mr Buckland said.
“We also provide life skill programs. Learning how to live independently, learning how to cook, learning how to budget, learning how to clean a home.
“We run courses for people with disability to learn how to get your learners basically is the course, a lot of people have a dream to drive but just have the fear or anxiety about actually going and getting their learners.”
Mr Buckland said it is hard to describe the importance of the social connections being formed at Yarra View Nursery but people are gaining lifelong friendships and are able to earn a living.
“It’s life changing and that can sometimes sound a bit wishy washy but it is life changing for people, in that being employed means that you’re doing something meaningful, you’re part of the community, you’re earning an income,” he said.
“And from that, we’ve got people who have bought cars or are living independently, being able to pay rent or live a normal life, go to the movies, go on a holiday all those sorts of things that we can do through having a job.
“People that work with us now can enjoy and have the opportunity to do things they may not have otherwise been able to do.”