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Big heart enterprise: helping regional communities.

Mission Australia Big Heart Enterprise (BHE) was established in the Illawarra region 20 years ago to help raise funds and create training opportunities for youth in a local accommodation service. Over the years, Big Heart has expanded and now includes a range of business activities that achieve social, financial, and environmental outcomes within the local community.

BHE's core business is characterised by warehouse hubs supported by seven retail stores, selling new and secondhand clothing to a target market of low-income families. The new activities and funding streams that have been added in recent years include computer recycling, furniture recycling and refurbishment, electrical testing and tagging, and an on-line (eBay) sales program. The enterprise has been self-sustaining for well over a decade, and has grown to over $3.5million in revenue in the 2009-2010 financial year.

At the core of the enterprise, and critical to its success, is BHE's large volunteer base.

The volunteers at BHE include general community members, Centrelink Mature Age volunteers, Work for the Dole participants, school and TAFE students on work experience placements, and people completing community service hours.

BHE shops are strategically placed in areas of particular disadvantage in the Illawarra, such as Bellambi, Warilla and Nowra. BHE shops sell new products alongside secondhand goods, and aim to provide a large product range at a low price. BHE shops have received over 220,000 visits in the past year.

BHE regularly donates goods to local community organisations for use within their services or for their clients. For example, the Wollongong and Warilla women's refuges have received furniture and other household items to assist clients transitioning out of crisis accommodation.

In November 2010, BHE officially launched a mattress recycling program; Soft Landings. Assisted by a three year DEEWR Jobs Fund grant, Soft Landings uses an Intermediate Labour Market model to provide traineeships to long-term unemployed jobseekers from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

Soft Landings works with seven trainees at any one time, assisting them to gain Certificate II qualifications while providing additional case management support. Soft Landings also has strong environmental objectives and is estimated that it will divert approximately 78,260 mattresses from landfill over the next three years; equating to 54,782 cubic metres of waste.

BHE has faced, and continues to face, a number of challenges typical of social enterprise particularly with regard to balancing the social and financial imperatives. Nevertheless, as the field of social enterprise continues to develop in Australia, longstanding enterprises such as BHE provide evidence of the range of social, environmental and economic outcomes that can be achieved.

Bill Dibley--NSW Operations Manager, Mission Australia

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Title Annotation:Mission Australia
Author:Dibley, Bill
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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