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Shane Delia

Maha Group

Scarf Community partners with restaurants and other hospitality businesses to run Scarf Dinners and provide meaningful training, mentoring and paid work experience to their participants who are from refugee and migrant backgrounds.  So what happened in this - their 10th year - when those restaurants and business had to shut due to COVID lockdowns?  We checked in with Scarf Co-founder, Hannah Brennan to see how she’s going. Things are looking up and  there’s some magnificent merch available for purchase  to help support this dynamic organisation, thanks to a collaboration with Melbourne-based Ethiopian artist, Olana Janfa. 

Olana Janfa & Hannah Brennan
What have been the biggest challenges this year for the Scarf Community? 

Oh boy. Where to start?! Our programs run in partner restaurants (recent seasons of Scarf Dinners have run at The Lincoln, Uncle, Garden State and The Rochey), so Covid’s been pretty disastrous for our usual operations. In 2020 (our tenth year) we were planning to run two short courses and three seasonal programs which would have seen us offer 56 trainee places to young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. It was going to be our busiest and most impactful year yet and a super exciting one, celebrating our 10th birthday.

Back in March, we were about to start our Autumn Scarf ’20 program at Stomping Ground when the pandemic started to take hold in Australia. We had eight new trainees signed up and a bunch of awesome hospo professionals who were going to be our volunteer mentors. And of course we’d started taking bookings. Then a few days out from the program induction, we had to scrap the whole program and cancel all the Autumn Scarf Dinners. And then within a couple of months we realised we had to scrap our whole operational plan for 2020. So I guess the biggest challenge has been reimagining Scarf in a virtual space and then actually making that happen. And trying to hold hope for our trainees and graduates through what has been an incredibly difficult time; people from asylum seeker, refugee and migrant communities have been disproportionately impacted by Covid and we have seen that play out in many different ways for our cohort.

After ten years of running training, mentoring and paid work experience programs in Melbourne restaurants, I never would have imagined Scarf would temporarily become an online program. Finances have been massively challenging too, as we typically derive about 65% of our income from Scarf Dinners and events.

How is Scarf adapting to a post-COVID world?

We’ve been using Zoom to run lots of workshops which bring together new trainees and recent graduates with some long-term grads and mentors. We’ve been focussing on job readiness, wellbeing and more recently, interviews. We have a Scarf trainee/graduate/mentor private facebook group which acts as a pretty swell online community for sharing training and work opportunities, wellbeing tips, mental health resources, food bank info, crisis support services and so on. We’ve also been able to provide individualised wellbeing and job readiness support to trainees and graduates, which has involved developing resumes and helping with job applications, and linking participants into other services, and just broadly “being here” for our trainees and grads who have been experiencing significant social isolation.

As restaurants start to open back up (yay Melbourne, yay double donuts!) we are tentatively planning a return to our programs and Scarf Dinners in 2021, which is super exciting. But we’ll be making some changes to our regular operations to ensure the safety of our trainees, volunteers and diners. And in terms of the program structure, there have been a lot of learnings through using Zoom, and other online channels which will help us make our programs more efficient down the line.

We’ve been trying to broaden our employment networks beyond hospitality into other industries too, as we want to ensure that all Scarf trainees and graduates have a pathway into work beyond our program. In June we supported two Scarf graduates into jobs with FareShare which was a win-win for everyone!

And very excitingly, we’ve recently done a bit of a collaboration with Olana Janfa who is an amazing artist based in Melbourne. Olana was born in Ethiopia and his work is absolutely beautiful and really fun. We commissioned him to create a painting to celebrate Scarf’s 10th birthday and show the diversity of our community and he created something so filled with joy – it’s awesome. We’ll auction the painting in early 2021 to help fund our programs next year. And in the meantime we are selling a very limited edition range of merchandise featuring Olana’s design – there are face masks, puzzles and totes and everything is locally made. All profits from the merch will help fund us continue supporting trainees and grads, so we’re hoping people will do their Christmas shopping with Scarf!

How are you and your teams?

We’re doing OK! I think the recent developments in Melbourne have definitely helped us all to feel more positive and hopeful.

These sunny days help too!

Our team is small but mighty. Thanks to a grant from Bank Australia and a very generous outpouring from our supporters in June (we ran an online fundraising campaign), we were able to introduce a 2016 Scarf graduate to the management team in August – Mir.

We’d *just* hired Mir back in March to manage Scarf Dinners, and then things got a bit tricky with our usual programs on hiatus! But Mir’s been splitting his time between Super Ling and Scarf for the past few months and it’s awesome to have him in the team, bringing his lived experience of coming to Australia as a refugee and navigating the job market and then having an impressive trajectory into the hospo world following Scarf.

Mir’s been helping to foster the online Scarf community of trainees and recent graduates by sharing training resources and job opportunities, and doing a bunch of stuff behind the scenes too. Once Scarf Dinners get back up and running Mir will step into the Restaurant Manager role which is really exciting.

Neil, our Wellbeing and Job Readiness Manager, has done an epic job of supporting our trainees and graduates this year, particularly our new graduates who lost their jobs back in March.

And, our amazing volunteer Mel, who’s been in the team for five years, has been helping with lots of things to keep the Scarf ship sailing. We’ve all struggled with our own mental health and wellbeing over the past few months but we’ve rallied as best we can and supported one another. I think we’ve all been in awe of the resilience shown by our trainees and graduates – this is something which I have always been very conscious of, but during the pandemic it’s come into focus more sharply. The young people we work with at Scarf have usually faced enormous barriers, but they are able to get back up and dust themselves off time and time again.

In our recent ‘Zoom Into Wellbeing’ workshop, one of our graduates shared that rather than feeling negative about the lockdown, she was using the time opened up to her to reconnect with friends and family back home, to do heaps of online study and listen to inspirational podcasts… all while holding down a full time job. A bit of perspective goes a long way.


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