PODCAST Toowoomba

Toowoomba Councillor Geoff McDonald Talks About the Benefits of Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships Inc.

Toowoomba Regional Councillor, Geoff McDonald has outlined the benefits of Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships Inc.

“We have a variety of groups, we’ve got the police, corrective services, the health sector, the education sector, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander area, the homeless area, people involved in drugs and alcohol as far as the prevention of,” Cr McDonald said in the podcast above.

“So, we’ve got a broad cross-section of the community that come together on a monthly basis just as a networking event, I guess more so than anything. But we do…

“Quite often we troubleshoot different areas and by the end of that two hour meeting there’s often a solution found, which is the power of community working together to solve community issues.”

Read the Toowoomba Councillor Geoff McDonald Talks About the Benefits of Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships Inc. TRANSCRIPT

Andrew: There’s a lot of communities where central to everything that they care about is the safety of those that are a part of those communities. It doesn’t matter whether you turn the news on in the evening, or you open up a newspaper, or you look around on social media. Quite a lot of the content is centred around safety and safety of the community. While Toowoomba does something about that, they call it the Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships Incorporated. To have a chat about that we have Councillor Geoff McDonald of the Toowoomba Regional Council on the line. How are you Geoff?

Geoff: G’day Andrew, very well thank you.

Andrew: Yeah. Look, we also have Darrel Nicholson, he’s an advocate for Toowoomba, and we chat with him weekly. And he’s going to have a chat with Geoff about the Toowoomba Regional Partnerships. How are you going Darryl?

Darryl: Oh mate, going really well Andrew, thanks for asking. It’s been a busy weekend, and lots of events happening in Toowoomba and [Sandhills 00:00:51], and we’ll cover that off a bit later on. But mate, I was very fortunate enough in 2017 to sit on the Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships and get involved in there, and through chairman Geoff we’ve done a bit of work, and I’m sort of more promoting what goes on in Toowoomba, but I just want to introduce Geoff and just ask Geoff to just explain how the Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships came together. Good morning Geoff.

Geoff: Yeah. G’day Darryl, god on you mate. Yeah, no, and more than happy for you to keep coming along too, your inputs valuable, as is all the members that come along. We have a variety of groups, we’ve got the police, corrective services, the health sector, the education sector, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander area, the homeless area, people involved in drugs and alcohol as far as the prevention of. So we’ve got a broad cross-section of the community that come together on a monthly basis just as a networking event, I guess more so than anything. But we do… Quite often we troubleshoot different areas and by the end of that two hour meeting there’s often a solution found, which is the power of community working together to solve community issues.

Darryl: It’s great, isn’t it? And the Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnership’s objective is to make our region a safer and healthier place to live. And if I can just touch on first off with the cameras that are installed in Toowoomba, and world-leading cameras in keeping the CBD and the safe night district safe. Can you tell us a bit about the work Adam’s been doing on that?

Geoff: Yeah, look it’s… And that was probably the Genesis I guess for Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships Darryl, because Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships, or we might call it STRP just for way of getting through it.

Darryl: Yeah, please.

Geoff: STRP really kicked off in the year 2000, so it’s been going for 20 years this year. But the genesis of that was actually around the city safe cameras. And at the time it was the mid 1990s I guess, close to 1997 actually, when it all kicked off. And there was some untoward activity that was happening in our CBD, and the the various stakeholders in the CBD got together, be it the hospitality areas or the police, and also council, and came up with a solution of using a digital radio network that goes through the various venues, to alert people of activities that were happening, and also the introduction of, which were then, analogue cameras. And now of course they’re digital, and a roll-out that we’ve had over the last couple of years.
So we are well catered for in the Safe Night Precinct. So much so that now we have little plaques on the ground in the footpaths, which we show people a clear why to walk where they have got some level of surveillance over them for that distance, which makes people feel safer. And one of the outcomes of a recent survey we’ve done is that 69% of people avoid certain areas in the Toowoomba region at night, and these sorts of activities, once again, community helping each other, go a long way to alleviating some of that perception and actually making sure that people feel safe. Because that’s the first priority is that you feel safe otherwise people won’t venture out. And the night time economy, whether it’s in Toowoomba or other parts of the nation, is critically important for a lot of these places to stay open and to employ people, and all that flows through the society.

Darryl: Yep. And look, I can testify to that. I sit on the front door of the Toowoomba Sports Club, I listen to the communication between Toowoomba police and all the venues, and mate, they’re really onto it. And I can definitely assure you in Toowoomba at night time it is safe, and you can have a safe night out. In May 2018 Geoff, the Toowoomba region was awarded the national accreditation by the Australian Safe Communities Foundation. Can you tell us a bit of a story about that, and how we got one of those accreditations? There’s only six in this region I believe?

Geoff: Yeah, there’s six in Australia, and it’s actually an international accreditation, and it was around about a three year process actually. It took some time, and it started with a perceptions versus reality study from the university of Southern Queensland, just to work out what whether there was substance to perception,` as opposed to the figures that were coming through police and hospitals in regard to the actual data. And it proves that although we’re not immune to some undesirable activity, we certainly were far greater or far better than what perception actually stated.
So that was one body of work. And then we set about seeing all the different areas that do attribute to a safe and healthy community. And we got to a point where we thought there’s so many different things that take place and organisations that are doing their bit to make it safe and healthy, that we really should showcase that at a level. So Pan Pacific Safe Community designation is a nationally national body, but it actually stretches internationally. So we get to network with places in New Zealand, the US, Canada, and other places in Australia to look what they’re doing.
So it doesn’t mean that you’re immune to undesirable activities, but what it does do is say that we actually have networks and organisations that are in place to actually deal with that and make it better, and actually look at the prevention rather than the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. So it’s basically what we’re trying to do at an STRP level, is build that fence on the top of the cliff that that doesn’t enable people to fall off it. So the Safe Community designation actually showcases the fact that we are a safe community, but more importantly we’re not resting on our laurels, and we’re actually doing things to even make it safer and a healthier place for people to live, learn, work and play.

Darryl: And it’s good isn’t it? You can share off with other areas that have got the same accreditation as well, and share experiences and learn from each other.

Geoff: Yeah, you can. And we have a sister city in New Zealand called a Wanganui, which is actually a Safe Community designated area as well. And although their political system is a little different, having no state level of government, it’s still very much the same as far as… They have the same desires as we all do, to live in a safe and healthy society. And so there’s some programmes that they have over there that we’ve already taken note of, and could well be replicated in a place like Toowoomba.

Darryl: Exactly, exactly. And the STRP, as you were saying, we get together once a month and we’ve seen outcomes where [Kay 00:07:30] has had some problems with graffiti around town, and all of a sudden there’s another organisation name that’s paint that can help. And then probation and parole were able to chip is as well, so it is really good how everyone comes together in these meetings each month.

Geoff: Yeah, it is. It’s a great example, as I said earlier, of a community actually helping a community to solve social issues. And you’re right, we also manage the Graffiti Stop programme through the financial support of local government at Toowoomba Regional Council, but also through what’s now called Community Corrections, which is the former Probation Parole. They provide those that are on orders to do the cleanup. And then we network into our council infrastructure as well. So whether it’s water towers, whether it’s park benches or seats that have graffiti, and then we can offer that service for free to the local government. So it’s actually saving our community, our rate payers, every dollar. For every cleanup that we have, we’re saving dollars, and you can tell that we are a place that takes pride in where we live.
In fact, the recent survey shows that 79% of people take pride in where they live right across our region. So that is part of that, making sure that if there’s unsightly graffiti that’s offensive then we get in about and clean it up. So that’s one example. The other project, rather large one that we have, is the Heights Community Centre in Wilsonton, Wine Drive. And we’re very fortunate through the State Government that they’ve identified, as we keep saying to them, that there is a need for a more sophisticated centre route in that part of the world, and we’re very fortunate that the State Government have seen that and we’ll have a new centre built probably by around this time next year I’d say that it’ll be close to being opened.
So that’ll enable us to provide more services to that part of our region, and around health literacy, around isolation, around making sure that people are actively engaged in some level of work, whether it’s volunteer work, or hopefully getting into paid work and off welfare and contributing to society, which makes them feel better and makes the community better.

Darryl: Yeah, brilliant. Andrew you’re in the Caboulture and the area down there, is there anything similar running down your region there, and what do you think of what we’re putting together at the STRC?

Andrew: Oh look, listening to this is very, very encouraging. Jodie and myself as you know Darryl, we travel up into Toowoomba regularly, we absolutely love the place. We love the night life. We’ve spent quite a bit of time going around more to food venues. We’re not really so much into the music and all of that sort of stuff, but definitely enjoying the food culture up there, and being able to just… You know what it’s like Darryl, you have a full meal, and once you’ve done that you want to go for a bit of a walk. And it’s a really nice sense to be able to walk up that main street and just be able to take it in.
But I’ve got a couple of questions, Geoff. If you’ve got a couple of young people or maybe an individual that’s demonstrating a bit of antisocial behaviour and your systems have detected that, what are some of the practical steps that you take towards not just snuffing that behaviour out at the time, but correcting that behaviour of those individuals or maybe that group?

Geoff: Yeah, well obviously there’s the standard networks that are available through QPS, and I have to say that the work that the police do, and the emergency services in Toowoomba is second to none. They do an absolutely tremendous job with volunteers in policing, but also the community service polices that are about. So they’re the first port of call. If it’s of criminal nature, obviously then that’s the spot that people should go to. But we have wrap-around services, youth services and what have you. We’ve got a very strong Youth Connect team within council, not a large team but a very good team. And they in fact, they held or were part of holding the State Community Development Conference only last week where we had 400 people from across the state and Northern New South Wales, one from Tasmania, and a few from other parts of Australia came and attended.
And even at those you can see that there’s a sense of communities actually saying, “Well look, we need to solve our own problems.” So for those sorts of youth that are found, we do have networks that are available through our community groups. And quite often or not, those folk will be known to one of those groups, and they can act on it pretty quickly. But as I said from the outset, we’re not immune to undesirable activity, but what we do have is the support networks to actually help alleviate that. And quite often it’s an underlying issue that’s caused this. It’s not necessarily the act of criminal activity, it’s an underlying issue.
And this is where the social determinants of health, which was brought to the table by the executive director of the Toowoomba Hospital, Shirley-Anne Gardiner, just really stated that it’s more so the postcode is a stronger predictor of your health than your genetic code. So a lot of these issues, if those young folk that you talk of Andrew, were found, it’s probably an underlying issue. It may well be that they’ve found themselves on the street. It may be that they’ve got into some sort of difficulty with drugs or alcohol, or whatever it may be. And quite often, once that information is found then we can find the right services for them, and they can then become the strongest advocates for people doing the right thing in our community.

Andrew: Yeah Geoff, and also a Toowoomba Regional Partnerships, a partnerships part of it if we can focus on that for a moment. For businesses… And you have new businesses from time to time, the little family businesses. Maybe those families haven’t been involved in the CBD until they decide that they’re going to put together… You know, whether it be the dress shop, the chip shop, or something else, maybe a food venue. How do they get involved in this Partnerships programme?

Geoff: Yeah look, it’s a pretty straight forward process. It’s not really a very onerous task, I have to say to you. We have… Through, in fact they can get in contact with us through social media, through Facebook. We have a Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnership site. My details are are always readily available, and we do have a secretary who mans an office for Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. And they can be contacted even through the council, 131 872 number. But look, it’s really about making sure that people know that there are others out there that can help. And quite often they’ve gone through exactly the same scenario, that they’re feeling themselves in at the moment. So we can all learn from each other. And I guess that’s the little gem, that STRP and that networking each month provides, because quite often, as Darryl pointed out, a problem might be brought to the table and someone’s already dealt with it somewhere along the line, and they could share that.
One of the examples that we did actually, just after… When we got the accreditation in fact, in May of last year, was a little support finder card that was produced by STRP and our partners. And that was really a support finder card where people might be found, whether they’re in a park or wherever they are, whether it’s homeless-ness or whatever the case may be. And it has a whole lot of support services on a little easy to find card, and we’ve found that to be very popular with agencies as well, handing those things out. So they’re a great little support, and they’re at all of our service centres across the Toowoomba Regional Council as well as at community groups. So there is a willing group of people right across our community that can be there on call to help others when they need that support.

Andrew: Geoff, do you also find out there are other spin-off benefits just through… Okay the focus of the group may be about a safer community and you’re working hard towards that, but just because the businesses are naturally networking on that front, they’re are also getting other benefits just through simply that networking that may benefit other parts of their businesses and the broader community?

Geoff: Yeah look, there’s no doubt. And I think you might have mentioned it even in your preamble at the start, Andrew, that everyone wants to live in a safe and healthy community. And the University of Southern Queensland is a great example of that, as are all the education places. But when you look at the opportunities to attract people here, whether they’re for education as a student, or whether they’re a professional, the first thing that people will check is, is that place safe? Now if they see straight away that we’re a community that’s received International Safe Accreditation, that we have an organisation like STRP in place that helps be proactive in that area, then all of that helps attract people, whether it’s as I say, as a student, or perhaps in a professional service.
So there is a flow on effect, and quite often we’ll see that the business community particular, there could be a call out to say, “Well, you know, we’re after staff.” It might be difficult to find a professional in certain areas, and that has been a conversation for some time now, that these sorts of promotions of what we’re doing in STRP certainly help that.

Andrew: Yeah. Look, councillor for the Toowoomba region Geoff McDonald, thank you very much for your time, for spending that with us, to listeners. Darryl, I think that’s quite informative for the community, and maybe those that aren’t aware of this programme being underway now might have a bit of an insight as to what goes on behind the scenes, to make those streets safer, the graffiti disappear, and the businesses come together and take it on as a community.

Darryl: And definitely in a couple of weeks Andrew, there’ll be a launch of the survey from the USQ which asks the Toowoomba community what was important to them. And I’ll certainly be there Geoff when the girls from the university launch that with Toowoomba Regional Council. And Andrew and myself loved getting involved in the promotion of that as well around the region, as well as Belinda Sanders from ABC, and all of the media organisations, which do a great job in our Toowoomba region.

PODCAST Toowoomba

World’s Loudest Town Crier, Toowoomba’s Kevin Howarth

We risked our broadcast equipment to sample the booming voice of the world’s loudest town crier.

Toowoomba’s own, Kevin Howarth, who is currently the loudest town crier in the world, took the time to chat with us about his ability and being deeply involved in his community.

Kevin won the world crier championship with a 101.7-decibel holler at an international tournament.

In-fact, he has been getting better with age and practice, and he shares every decibel whenever he gets the opportunity with the Toowoomba region.

Read the World’s Loudest Town Crier, Toowoomba’s Kevin Howarth TRANSCRIPT

McCarthy-Wood: Thank you very much for your time. Look, we have a really interesting one. We don’t know how we’re going to demonstrate it throughout this interview, but according to the Chronicle, sometime ago, Toowoomba’s town crier. That’s Kevin Howarth. He’s been officially recognised as having the loudest cry in Australia. Now this is it, 97 and a half decibels. Like I said, we have no idea on how we’re going to demonstrate that through this interview, but we have Daryl the Toowoomba advocate, he’s on the line. He’s going to have a chat with Kevin Howarth. G’day Daryl, how are you?

Daryl Nicholson: I’m good, Andrew. How are you travelling today?

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah. Good, good. Now how do you think we are going to do this demonstration? You were telling me before you just don’t think it’s going to happen, but do you think we give it a go?

Daryl Nicholson: I don’t know whether we’ll get him to a yell, he might break all of your equipment, but I want to introduce to the world a TV personality from Dubai who calls Toowoomba home and he was also a radio personality. He’s a DJ. He always wanted to be a town crier. He told me he was holding his dad’s hand when he was walking around London and he said he wanted to be a town crier and the dream came true. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Kevin Howarth, Toowoomba’s town crier. How are you, Kevin?

Kevin Howarth: Hey, good morning Daryl. Very, very good thank you mate. Do you know what I’m going to tell you now?

Daryl Nicholson: What’s that?

Kevin Howarth: That’s old news now. I have just recently done the world decibel, world’s loudest cry, which is 101.7.

Daryl Nicholson: Wow, that’s amazing. Andrew, would that break the equipment?

McCarthy-Wood: Mate, look, I’m game. I think if smoke comes out of the equipment it’s all worth it.

Daryl Nicholson: All right. Okay. Mate, one of the first questions I want to ask you Kevin, living in Dubai, I’ve never been to Dubai and people tell me it’s quite incredible. How did you come to call Toowoomba, Queensland home?

Kevin Howarth: Well, a little bit of a story. What happened is I was in Dubai and then I actually moved to a place called Bahrain, which is just next to Dubai, but Bahrain like a little village compared to the big old bright lights of Dubai. But I lived there for 12 years and it was such a beautiful place. And I had a radio show there and I got this ugly face on television and [inaudible 00:02:07] and what happened, my wife, who’s Australian, suddenly her mum got a bit of cancer and we came as a family across here to Toowoomba. But, touch wood, Margaret’s fantastic now. So it’s all gone, all the cancer’s gone, which is great. But one of the weird things was my wife and daughter came over end of November. I came over in January and three days later we had the floods in Toowoomba. [crosstalk 00:02:35]
I saw more rain in 12 hours than I did in 12 years in the Middle East, but it was great how all the community got together and everything. And I just fell in love with Toowoomba. I just love Toowoomba.

Daryl Nicholson: And that’s how I met you, because I was out in Dalby and I was cut off for six weeks from Dalby to Toowoomba. I couldn’t see my daughter, couldn’t see my family and friends. So I got an opportunity to come back to Toowoomba and work with Jimmy from Rumours International [phonetic 00:03:04] and that’s how I came to meet you, and you’re Krazy Kevin the DJ. Tell us about your little business you got there.

Kevin Howarth: Well I started off years and years ago, started off doing a bit of DJing, mobile DJing, doing hotels and weddings and things and all that. And then luckily I was spotted and I started working in a nightclub and then somebody entered me into a competition and I went through a few rounds and we had the final at The Empire, Leicester Square and in front of 3000 people I became the UK DJ of the year. And that just opened so many doors for me. I was so lucky. I’ve travelled all over Europe and the world DJing and like I say, I went to Hong Kong in ’96 and ’97 and had a great time there, and then I ended up going to Dubai for a couple of years, then Bahrain. And then now I’ve come full circle because I’ve got [inaudible 00:03:55] DJ, whatever. But now I do mobiles and I did a wedding on Saturday night and I do birthdays and I’ll do anything.

Daryl Nicholson: That’s great stuff, great stuff. And mate I’ve in Toowoomba, I’ve been here since 1977 and I remember the late, great Ralph Cockle and Ralph was our town crier for many, many years, a long time. And when he passed away from cancer, I thought no one can replace Ralph. But I’ve got to say, mate, you were astounding. One of the first gigs you did for me as a town crier was in 2017, the Festival of Rail. We brought two steam trains to Toowoomba and mate, Andrew, this guy got on the platform. They couldn’t get the platform speakers working, the microphone. So anyhow, I had to get Kevin to relay a message to, like, I reckon there was 2000 people there at the platform and he was really loud.

McCarthy-Wood: That’s sensational. So no need to buy a PA system.

Daryl Nicholson: Not with this man, mate. Not with this man. What do you reckon, Kevin? Can you give us an “oyez oyez” [phonetic 00:04:52]?

Kevin Howarth: Are you sure? What I’ll do, I’ll move the mic. I’ll move the telephone away from me, okay. I’ll just move it away from me. I’ll put it at arms length.
Here we go.
Oyez, oyez, oyez

Daryl Nicholson: Oh wow. That’s amazing.

Kevin Howarth: I hope I haven’t blown up anything.

McCarthy-Wood: Well, what I’m actually more worried about, like our gear, is still going, so it must have coped with this but I just don’t know what we’re going to do with the phone call complaints of all the stereo systems that were blowing as gone and played this back.
Kevin, I have a couple of questions because as you rightly pointed out, you’ve actually improved. Now the article being old news, the Chronicle, that was back in October, 2018. 97.5 decibels. You’ve broken the 100 decibel barrier and you’re taking on the world. You’re getting better with age. It’s just something, you know, people got to the gym and they try and lift more and more weight. What’s your secret? How do you do it?

Kevin Howarth: Well, it’s so funny, Andrew. I went and interviewed somebody for Parkinson’s disease. They do some singing and it’s amazing watching all these people who’ve got Parkinson’s disease. As soon as they start singing, the shaking stops and everything. And the lady who was teaching them, I just said to her in passing, is there anything I could do to help my voice? Because when I did the Carnival of Flowers, I had a bit of a husky voice afterwards. So she said, you’ve got to hum. I said sorry? Hum. And I hummed Danny Boy. And also-

McCarthy-Wood: So we’re going to get some of that too?

Kevin Howarth: [inaudible 00:06:44] (humming)

McCarthy-Wood: Huh. Yeah. Right. That’s cool.

Kevin Howarth: And also you’ve got to, you get a straw and you blow bubbles in a glass and hum at the same time as well.

McCarthy-Wood: But mate, we’re trying to tell kids these days, don’t play with your drink. Just drink it. So that’s actually ill-advice you’re saying.

Kevin Howarth: I know I’m a bad town crier.

McCarthy-Wood: Now, look, the sense that I’m getting out of this chat, which is absolutely fantastic. Both you are Daryl love being involved in the community and just being involved in it. No strings attached, not wanting to get anything back. What is the sense that you get, and you’ve just touched on it, but the deep sense of Toowoomba in the community when you have been around the world.

Kevin Howarth: Well, I just loved, going like you say, into the community. I love going around to old people’s homes and schools and actually when we did the town crying down in Echuca-Moamawe, we were that for eight days and we visited outlying schools and Men’s Sheds, went to Men’s Sheds, and it was just the joy of people because once you dress up as a town crier, you can do whatever you want, really. Because everybody goes “oh look it’s a town crier, now look at that”.
There’s a good story about, do you know when the first-born, in the Royal was born, in England? A town crier dressed up as a, ’cause he’s a town crier up in Colchester, He dressed up. He got on the train, went down to London, he went through all the security things and everyone’s “oh it’s the town crier, it’s the town crier”, went to [inaudible 00:08:19] stood on the steps of the maternity hospital and declared, “here we have the brand new, future King of England”. But nobody stopped him. He went through all the securities and everything. He just turned up. So that’s just a weird thing is like, yeah. Being a town crier [crosstalk 00:08:39].

McCarthy-Wood: So, Daryl, the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers was mentioned. Do you think next time we just don’t worry about a PA system and you can just relay everything to Kevin and he can make sure, well, what do we do if we get asked to turn the volume down?

Daryl Nicholson: Oh, I don’t know, I do not even know where that volume control is on Krazy Kevin. No idea.

McCarthy-Wood: Oh, that is absolutely sensational.

Kevin Howarth: I’m blessed with, like my dad always said to me, I’ve got a voice like a foghorn anyway. This is a great thing to do, to use this unnatural thing that I’ve got.

McCarthy-Wood: Well, look here. You’re using it for good now, but growing up with that foghorn, did that get you into trouble?

Kevin Howarth: Oh, loads of times. Loads of times. I was a teacher’s pet. I was kept in a cage at the back of the class because I was too loud. So “Kevin will you please be quieter please”, “Kevin will you be a bit quieter”. I’ve always had that.

McCarthy-Wood: Well that would have been handy, the school wouldn’t have need as a school bell.

Kevin Howarth: No, no. Kevin, tell everybody to get back to lunch.

McCarthy-Wood: Daryl, that’s fantastic. First up, I really want to thank, Daryl Nicholson, Toowoomba advocate for sharing this story and bringing Kevin onto the show. That is absolutely sensational. Just having community come together. Yeah.

Daryl Nicholson: And mate, I just, Toowoomba, he’s a talented guy. He’s, Krazy Kevin mobile DJ. He’s a radio personality on Power FM. He’s got a radio show there, he’s of course Toowoomba’s town crier and community minded. I’ve seen him do stuff for the Toowoomba Hospital Foundation. As you said, Andrew, doesn’t even flinch an eyelid just does it and does it with great results. And just a great ambassador, a great advocate for our town. I really do appreciate our city, thank you Kevin.

McCarthy-Wood: Kevin Howard, thank you very much for spending time with our listeners.

Kevin Howarth: Oh, Darryl, I’ve got my handkerchief out here. That was nice, thank you so much mate. Thank you so much. And thank you for the opportunity, Andrew, for coming on the show and everything. Thank you so much Andrew and Daryl. Thank you.

McCarthy-Wood: Absolutely sensational. Daryl, thank you for your time too with our listeners.

Daryl Nicholson: Great, take care.

PODCAST Toowoomba

Emerge – A social enterprise for youth in Toowoomba


Andrew: Thank you very much for your company. Look, there’s a lot of community organisations out there, you know, they probably go about their day to day business largely unnoticed other than by those that they affect and in a lot of cases in a very, very positive way. There is an organisation that is exactly like that. It’s called Emerge from up in Toowoomba and they are doing work with our young people, our next generation. Those that maybe have been presented with not a great start in life, they may have found themselves to be homeless or just struggling and not being able to figure out where it is that they are going to play a role in to contributing positively to society. To have a chat with Jen from Emerge, we have Darrell on the line. He’s out of Toowoomba at the moment. Darrell, how are you?

Darrell: Yeah, I’m going well, mate. I’m actually in Santos, basically I’ve taken a couple of days to come down here and just feel the ground. It’s gone absolutely great, mate. I’m loving these weekly interviews that we’re doing. Really good.

Andrew: Yeah. Look, Darrell, thank you for you time and we have the technology. So you’re at in Stanthorpe as you just mentioned. Jen is in Toowoomba, so if you guys have a bit of a chat about this, this’ll help the community and Emerge and those people and I think Jen’s got quite a story to tell.

Darrell: Oh definitely mate. Well, morning Jen, welcome along. How are you?

Jen: I’m good, thank you.

Darrell: That’s great. You’ve had a great week away. You’ve been taking the kids away from some challenges for the week.

Jen: Absolutely, went to the beach just to recoup and revitalise. It’s been really cool.

Darrell: And well deserved, because you’ve been on a bit of a journey the last 12 months with Emerge. I remember meeting you a few years ago, you had the mobile food and catering van.

Jen: Yeah.

Darrell: Now you’ve acquired your source in Station Street. Just tell us a bit, you were actually sharing your experiences cause you were homeless at 13.

Jen: That’s right. I left my family home when I was 13, home was not a really nice place to be when I was younger…

Darrell: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Jen: And I sort of dropped out of school and spent a couple of years on the streets and you know, really disengaged from the community and my family. And you know, what if that happened back then, I was pregnant by the time I was 16, you know, I didn’t have a job or any money, so it was just thanks to some really cool mentors that helped me get life on track. So yeah. And that’ll happen here in Toowoomba. Absolutely love Toowoomba and I’ve always wanted to give back to the community that helped me.

Darrell: That’s right, and I remember when you opened Emerge, you were talking that at 16 you met a mentor, lovely lady who, you know, you then inspired yourself to inspire others.

Jen: Absolutely. Yeah. You know, we have a growing youth homelessness issue in Toowoomba, and not just youth homelessness. You know, we’ve got kids who are just really disengaged from school or family or you know, the greater community and I just feel really responsible that, you know, I can have a really big part in helping those kids get back on track.

Darrell: That’s correct. And the van, we had the van going but then an opportunity came up with Sauce in Station Street. Tell us the journey with Sauce and how that became Emerge.

Jen: Yeah, well we sort of… I have a long history in food catering, so you know, hospitality’s always come really natural to me. We started off this project with a youth drop in centre in the centre of town and we had a mobile food van, which was really cool. We were able to do a lot of events and continue our catering, but we were sort of, our youth drop in center’s parking was behind the former Sauce Kitchen down in Station Street. And we always had these big dreams of moving into a cafe and a cooking school. It was always sad, but it always felt really unachievable.
And then it kind of, as the universe does the things that it does, the performer I know approached us and said “hey, would you ever consider moving in right next door to a purpose built cooking school, a massive cafe?” And we sort of, we said yes, we knew it would take a lot of work. We did a major crowd funding campaign.

Darrell: Yes. And I said that was incredible that you reached out and you raised so much money in 48 hours.

Jen: Yeah. You know, we didn’t have high hopes, you know, crowd funding typically takes months of planning. We’ve done it previously and we kind of… We’d had another organisation raise part of the money for us and I sort of went, it was six days actually, and I said, you know, let’s just give it a go. What happens if we ask? And we asked and the Toowoomba community just really backed us, we had a lot of businesses throwing in money. And you know what was really cool, not, the big money was cool, but it was the little stuff too. You know, people giving their last 20 bucks trying to get behind the project was just really, really inspiring. So yeah, it was great.

Darrell: It’s definitely good. And look, if you’re in Toowoomba please call into Emerge in Station Street and enjoy the experience. It is closed Mondays though, you don’t open Mondays.

Jen: That’s right. We’re just delivering a couple of other projects on Mondays, privately, cooking class with the kids and a teen mums meet up group. But yeah, Tuesday through to Saturday and with, you know, Christmas coming up we’re increasing a lot of functions and things like that for Christmas parties and stuff. Yeah.

Darrell: Right. Excellent. And I’ve been involved in the boxing up at Rumours and you’re heavily involved in boxing and boxing is happening at Emerge and it’s a good way for the kids to engage with each other and really bond together. Tell us about your boxing event coming up on the 18th of October.

Jen: Yeah, so you know, boxing is kind of… hospitality’s is key to what we do. But the other element which might be weird for a cafe is the boxing. It’s not a common pair up, but I guess black hospitality’s been in my blood for a long time. My husband is a professional fighter, or was, he’s retired now. He’s, you know, 30 years in the sport. So we just know it’s in his blood and we just know the benefit boxing, for everybody. You know, for mental health and physical health. And also that team spirit. So, we deliver a drop in service down in the youth hub. Kids come and literally off the streets, and they come and do some training. Sometimes it’s just a one-off thing, but more often than not they keep coming back, and it’s the way that we engage them into our programmes and eventually into employment. So we’ve been doing that for a couple of years now and our boxing event is a corporate fight night.

Darrell: Okay.

Jen: And it’s just a cool way for our kids to show off their skills. And so that’s next on the 18th of October and our kids will be fighting and also some of our mentors, we have a lot of mentors and just corporate, so they’d get jumping in and packing a bit of a challenge as well.

Darrell: Right.

Jen: Yeah. So we’re kind of nestled in behind the Irish Club Hotel. So we asked them if we could host the little events in there and they said yes, so it’s kind of cool. We’ll be doing the food on the night, corporate table, general admission and just really fun, you know, and a really cool way to get in the corner of these kids who’ve been working so hard to get life on track and yeah.

Darrell: Okay. So how do people get tickets?

Jen: You can drop into the cafe and do them there. Give it to Cole, or get onto our Facebook page and there’s a pinned post at the top of our page that’s got all the details there, all the prices, the time and a link where you can do it online, which is probably the easiest way for everybody.

Darrell: Excellent. Look, this sounds like a great event. Never said… [Mick Shore 00:00:07:37], your husband, he’s certainly a great mentor and a great boxer and this is a great idea that you’re doing to engage the youth that are struggling to get to school and get off the streets.

Andrew: Yeah.

Darrell: [inaudible 00:07:48]

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Look, Jen, I do have a bit of a question because look, our society, you know, Australians, we like to think that everybody gets a fair go and they get a fairly equal start to life, but that certainly is not the case. There’s all sorts of reasons and circumstances as you know, why some young people, our next generation, might be disadvantaged at their start in life. Have you gotten any stories that you can tell us about of some of the successes that your organisation have enjoyed?

Jen: Yeah, absolutely. I guess the… One of the first young people come to mind, and there’s many, is one of our young fellows, named Liam. He’s 19. He showed up to a drop in centre probably in January, I think it was. And you know, he was couch surfing, he’d been experiencing a lot of drug addiction, a lot of mental health issues. He came only to get some food and some hygiene packs. We give those out at the youth hub. And at that time it was when we were setting up the cafe actually, and he said “oh, what are you guys doing?” And we explained what we were doing, and he jumped straight in and wanted just to help us stick the right stuff.
And then he learned a little bit more about our boxing and he thought he’d give it a go. You know, he’s a 19 year old, young man, that’s really appealing, which is what’s so great about the boxing, you know, he wasn’t ready to work. He said that, you know, life’s been really tough, my mental state isn’t awesome at all. But he just wanted to do the boxing and he wanted to help. So we sort of had him around helping with dishes on his terms and doing the boxing. And over time he just became a lot more engaged, showing up to training early. And when you start, to say keep showing up early, leaving late, that’s a really cool thing to watch. You know that they’re engaged, you know that they’re committed. He eventually started getting some paid shifts. He was ready to do some paid shifts with us in the cafe. And you know, he used to show up for shifts that he wasn’t rostered on for. He wanted to help. He wanted to do extra stuff.

Andrew: Oh, that’s awesome.

Jen: I hear all the time, you know, kids are lazy, they don’t want to work, but I see the total opposite where we are, you know, kids are so keen to have a go. And now he now got his own place. He’s in a shared accommodation. He’s been living there for about three months. He’s got a full time job with a fish and chip shop. He still comes to training early, always leaves late. He’s a really great mentor to other young people. He’s just got his licence. He said to me a couple of weeks ago, he said, “aw man, it just feels so amazing to have my life on track, I feel so happy.” And it was just one of those moments where, you know, cause it’s [inaudible 00:10:29] and it just reminds you of why we do what we do.
He was this kid, you know, and he just rocked up homeless, you know, he told us recently too that one day he didn’t show up to training and one of our mentors gave him a ring and said, where are you mate? And he said, you know, “I’m at the end, I don’t want to, I think life’s over for me.” And mentor said, no, no, you need to just come in, come in and just show up. And he came in and he told us that because that mentoe reached out to him, he was going to commit suicide. So, but now he’s a totally different kid. He’s just this energy now. He walks into the room and he’s got so much beautiful energy and he works hard, he wants better. And it’s just amazing to see that turn around.

Andrew: Yeah, isn’t that fantastic? Hey, so not only do you help the individual in question, but you’re taking somebody that is potentially going to be quite a burden on society and turning them into somebody that is going to absolutely contribute and really stand up and be a good representative of the next generation.

Jen: Oh, absolutely. We see it all the time. I just think sometimes kids get themselves into this place where, you know, the only thing they know is to choose something bad or to choose the bad behaviour. But underneath all that, it’s just a need and usually that need is around belonging and love and we keep that. And I just, sometimes they’ll show up and they, on the surface it just looks like they’re the naughtiest kid out there that you know, and I just think, oh wow, you have so much potential. And I think when you start treating them like that, that they have so much potential and you believe in them, then things just start to shift quite quickly. And I think, you know, a big part of what we do at Emerge is trying to educate the community on that treatment. You know, they’re just kids, they’re just like everybody else. So, they have so much potential and we’re so happy to be able to give them that platform, you know, where they can really grow and become mentors to other kids as well.

Darrell: I don’t know about you Andrew, I’ve just had some goosebumps listening to that story about Liam. That’s just amazing.

Andrew: Oh yeah, absolutely. And isn’t that tremendous that we can just play this small part, this small role in helping enable organisations like Emerge and just for us to be able to witness the hard work and the results that people like Jen and that are achieving.

Darrell: I know.

Jen: Yeah.

Darrell: It’s just amazing.

Andrew: Okay. Well thank you very much for your time, Jen and Darrell. We will look if anybody wants any further information. And for you, Jen, it’s not just for this event that’s coming up or for people that may want to support what you’re doing, but also maybe there is somebody listening to this that is finding themselves in a situation that isn’t great. How do they best get in contact with you?

Jen: You know, drop in and see us anytime down at 1 Station Street, and that is the cafe or the youth hub. You know, or Facebook is a really good way to keep up to date with what we’re doing and different events and reach out. You know, it’s always a good idea to send us a message if you’re not sure about how to reach out.

Darrell: That’s great. Excellent.

Andrew: Thank you very much for your time.

Darrell: Thanks, Jen.

Jen: No worry, thanks so much.