Tucked into Hosier Lane, one of Melbourne’s premiere tourist destinations, the cafe is staffed by the organisation’s clients who receive mentoring in hospitality and life skills, as well as long-term plans to ensure they have the confidence and capability to go on to secure employment.
Chair of Youth Project’s board of directors, Melanie Raymond, said as an organisation dedicated to providing opportunities to young people, particularly those facing disadvantage, we wanted to create the work experience opportunities that they were not getting access to and that were holding them back in the job market.
“So a social enterprise cafe where they could, for the first time in their lives, gain some real life work experience was a breakthrough for us in how we work with long-term unemployed young people.”
She said the concept development lasted for 12 months before the organisation “just dived in”, and budgeted the cost of the fit-out and employed a cafe manager to oversee the training.
“If we waited for it to be perfect, we’d still be thinking about it today,” she said.
“We’re running a complex care facility… employing doctors and nurses and social workers, and we were suddenly having to learn about the price of coffee beans and milk frothing techniques.
“It was a big leap into something quite different, but we really learnt on our feet and it’s overwhelmingly been a successful experience with only a few hiccups along the way.”
While the profits from Good 2 Go are channelled into Youth Projects’ homelessness services, Raymond said the primary purpose of the enterprise is to help young people become job ready, while covering its operational cost.
“We look for people who we know will not be able to experience work experience, to access work experience in the mainstream workforce.
“They’re people who have got multiple barriers, and we give them the opportunity to try a real life experience of the world of work, of teamwork and expectations.”
The cafe is also located adjacent to the organisation’s primary health service, The Living Room, which provides cross-over support for workers.
“We have a range of experts on site at all times, which means we’re able to better support people who might have particular difficulties getting into work experience and job readiness, it’s unique in that respect,” Raymond said.
“So if a client is facing a difficulty and presents unwell, we’re able to pick that up very quickly. We’re sympathetic to the special needs and problems they might have, and support them through their transition into work readiness, rather than be very unsympathetic and blunt.
“That’s one of their worst fears, that they won’t be treated well, they’ll be bullied and not respected.”
She said that the young people embraced the opportunity to work, and the impact on their lives quickly became apparent.
“Some of them have been very socially isolated and fearful, and we’ve had a very rapid turnaround in their interpersonal skills, where they are laughing, joking, feeling confident, taking on new aspects of the work,” she said.
“[We target] the soft skills that are so important to employers around eye-contact, self-confidence, communication, self-esteem and initiative so that they are suited to work anywhere.
“If you have boosted those areas then you’re going to perform much better at job interviews after the experience. All six of the first trainees have moved on into job readiness and employment, and we’re just starting a new intake of trainees now.”
“Many clients of ours who are in Melbourne’s south and north don’t have experience of coming into the city, it’s not that far away but it’s where the jobs are, so they’re feeling quite excluded,” she said.
“We were seeing so many young people who were very isolated and locked into an environment where no one in their neighbourhood has any access to upward social mobility.
“Broadening their horizons around job opportunities and the kinds of work they aspire to has been part of what we’re doing.”
The atmosphere of Good 2 Go is a significant part of its commercial and social success. Raymond said each day is full of “colour and movement” with a retro soundtrack that adds to the vibe of the laneway.
The cafe itself is frequented by tourists, Youth Projects clients from The Living Room, and other Melburnians.
It also sells art projects made by clients, as well as second-hand clothing with the proceeds going to the organisation’s women’s group.
There is an emphasis on involving Youth Project’s clients in the day-to-day life of the cafe.
“We run a lively pay-it-forward coffee scheme because it’s located in the same building as our primary health service, which means there could be 60 or 70 people a day coming through who are experiencing primary homelessness, poor nutrition, they are hungry and they are lonely,” Raymond said.
“So the capacity to be able to provide an outlet where they too can enjoy some of Melbourne’s finest coffee was something that we wanted to do as well.
“And the public responded very, very well – and even tourists – to the very simple idea of pay it forward for someone in need.”
Because Good 2 Go is designed to have a direct social impact, rather than serve as a purely commercial venture to drive revenue, the expectations of its profitability need to be managed.
“I think the revenue potential is too small to ever possibly fund high-impact programs, but there are a wide range of additional benefits that come with doing that, in terms of opening up opportunities for people who are marginalised, in terms of changing the way you think and changing the skillset of your employees,” Raymond said.
“We’re also developing a range of products for the tourist market because over 2,000 tourists a day walk past our cafe… so we recognise that we can tap into that as well.”
She said there are also plans for Youth Projects, as a Registered Training Organisation, to run other enterprises.