Cafe Stepping Stone is widening the reach of its successful social enterprise model with a second location officially opening at the Common Ground housing project in Dickson.
Founders Vanessa Brettell and Hannah Costello have been running Cafe Stepping Stone at Strathnairn Arts Centre since 2020. In that time, they have employed 32 women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The success of their first location has led them to partner with Common Ground Dickson to provide the same service in the inner north.
“After initially operating in Strathnairn, where we have been supporting women through a sustainable food business for the last three years, we are very excited for this opportunity to expand and grow our impact,” Vanessa said.
“We aim to demonstrate the efficiency of social enterprise in working with the government and community to improve social outcomes.”
Common Ground Dickson opened in October 2022 and provides long-term, stable housing and support services to 40 households, focusing on providing stable and affordable housing to vulnerable Canberrans.
The Dickson cafe is working with the ACT Government to offer employment and on-the-job training opportunities to women who face multiple barriers to employment.
“For women who have experienced homelessness, transitioning from being homeless to re-entering the job market can be an especially daunting journey,” said Homelessness Services Minister Rebecca Vassarotti.
“The confidence and skills women gain through the Stepping Stone Cafe is invaluable in improving the quality of their lives and improves their pathway to a job and financial stability.”
The cafe began operations in August and has already offered jobs to 15 new employees, four of who are Common Ground residents. The social enterprise aims to welcome and support migrant, refugee, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. The registered training program allows participants to earn an income, learn transferable skills and gain experience that will hopefully improve their long-term financial and employment stability.
The cafe was officially opened on Friday (22 September) by Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Minister for Housing and Suburban Development Yvette Berry and Minister for Homelessness Services Rebecca Vasserotti.
The Dickson location has replicated a couple of favourite menu items from Strathnairn, like their green Reuben toastie, as well as a number of blackboard specials. The entire menu is vegetarian – with plenty of vegan options – and focuses on sustainable, local produce and reflects the cultural diversity of the staff.
The cakes cabinet is also well stocked with treats like tahini banana bread, freshly baked cakes and cookies.
So far, the team has been pleased with the response from locals and hopes that the cafe will continue to be a place for the community to enjoy.
“We are grateful for the positive response we have had from the greater community and residents, with lots of regulars coming in and helping us create a friendly community space where everyone is welcome,” Vanessa said.
“Food is such a wonderful way to bring people together, and we feel so grateful to have the opportunity to foster this.”
Cafe Stepping Stone Dickson is located at 8 Hawdon Place, Dickson. They are open Tuesday to Saturday, 8:30 am to 3 pm. Follow Cafe Stepping Stone on Facebook or Instagram, or visit their website. Find out more about Common Grounds Dickson on the ACT Government community services website.