Regular readers will know that I love finding out about social enterprise businesses in Melbourne (such as STREAT, Charcoal Lane and The Social Studio) and recently I was told about LoveLuvo, a retail store with environmentally friendly products for the home and body (as well as a manufacturing business) which provides employment for those with a mental disability. Today’s HOT Chat is with Greg Ferrington of Westgage Community Initatives Group Inc, which is the not-for-profit body behind LoveLuvo. Thanks Greg!

Greg, tell me a bit about your background and your involvement with Westgage Community Initatives Group Inc and LoveLuvo?

I have a background in the disability sector and have been working in this area for over 15 years.  During most of that time I managed disability employment services.  I have been with WCIG for over 5 years now and have been in various roles within the organization.  It is just recently that I have moved across to our social enterprises to work as their marketer.

My role is to build our social enterprises by marketing to private enterprise and not for profits.  With my role, “the sky is the limit” as there are many opportunities.

LoveLuvo is a social enterprise business. What is it that makes it unique?

Passion and enthusiasm.  As I said I moved from another part of WCIG and as soon as I arrived here it was noticeable. The culture is one of getting the job done but with a smile and a bit of fun along the way.  It is great to see the staff who have not been able to compete out in open employment come to a place of support and blossom.

I think there is one thing that stands out as testament to what we do.  We started in 2006 with 5 employees with a disability and today 4 of those remain with us.  That says that they have found their niche.  We have had other staff join us and move on but usually into open employment.

What kind of products will people find at LoveLuvo? Where do you source your products from?

We stock organic and environmentally friendly cleaning products for the bathroom and kitchen.  We also source organic and enviro- friendly beauty products for women and men.  All of our products are from Australia with nearly 90% of them coming from Victoria.  We like to keep a low carbon footprint as much as we can.

We are lucky to have some great suppliers who work closely with us to develop new products all the time.

Westgage Community Initatives Group Inc also has other social enterprise businesses including Cleanable and Onsite Catering – can you tell us a bit about them?

Cleanable is our commercial and domestic cleaning arm.  We have contracts with large organizations such as Western Region Health centre, Melbourne Health and Yarra Community Housing.  This has grown from a few contracts in 2006 to the size that it is now.  This has occurred because of the management’s determination to grow the business and allow opportunities for people with a mental illness to participate in the workforce.

Onsite Catering has only just opened this year and provides private and corporate catering services while providing training and employment opportunities for people with a disability.

What are some of the challenges you face opening a social enterprise business?

Changing people’s perceptions is the largest challenge that we face.  The image of social enterprises that most people have is of people working on very low rates of pay and doing monotonous work in a warehouse environment.  This needed to be changed and I believe it is.  There are very few types of social enterprises like that anymore and they are on their way out.

Building the brand was another challenge.  Many people in the inner west now know what we stand for and who we are but that was one of the struggles faced early on in the building of our social enterprises.  This was done by building strong relationships with both small and large organizations.  They were soon aware of the work that we did and word soon spread.

Finally, what are your tips for HOT places and things in Melbourne?

Go West!  There are some real secrets in the western suburbs.  Try the places below:

  • LoveLuvo – of course! (174 Victoria St, Seddon)
  • Los Latinos (128 Mitchell St, Maidstone +61 3 9318 5289) – the best south American food you will find
  • Sourdough Kitchen (172 Victoria St, Seddon +61 3 9687 5662) – unbelievable organic bread
  • Luca Haus (86a Charles Street, Seddon +61 3 9687 0039) – try the French vanilla slice