21 February 2023

Heartbeat Cafe gives a leg up to young trainees and a kickstart to the community in Whitlam

| Lucy Ridge
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three people sitting at picnic table

Cafe manager Catherine, WCS deputy CEO Joe Colbert and trainee Hugo from Heartbeat Cafe. Photo: Liv Cameron.

In one of Canberra’s newest suburbs, there’s plenty of building work underway. Tradies in high-vis drive their utes around and sounds of construction are in the air. But there’s another kind of building happening in Whitlam as Heartbeat Cafe is laying the foundations of community.

Heartbeat Cafe is a simple coffee shop run by Woden Community Service (WCS) in the heart of Whitlam. WCS Deputy CEO Joe Colbert told Region that they’re looking to provide a high-quality service for the community while also training a new generation of baristas.

“The main reason behind the cafe is to give people the opportunity to learn a skill that is marketable, gain experience and get a reference,” he said.

“We’ll be looking at picking up people who are either young or vulnerable, who’ve struggled with employment in the past. We’ll give them training and experience in a supported environment and give them real life skills.”

Heartbeat Cafe, Whitlam

The deck at Heartbeat Cafe in Whitlam is a great place to get some work done, catch up with friends, or just sit and enjoy a coffee. Photo: Liv Cameron.

WCS is working closely with the Suburban Land Agency (SLA), which runs the Mingle program and aims to facilitate community connection in new suburbs. WCS and Mingle are working together to create placemaking activities and to activate the public spaces around the cafe through events that will kickstart a sense of community for Whitlam’s new residents.

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Katie Peek is the Community Engagement and Development Manager for WCS and she says that the cafe will act as the focal point for a wide range of activities. They’re hoping that their services and events will benefit people all over the ACT and introduce Whitlam to the wider Canberra community.

Sustainability is a big focus of the new suburb so WCS is working with Mingle to run environmental programs like seed-saving and plant-propagating workshops. There are also creative activities in the works, like a publicly available ‘art cart’, an artist in residence, and plans for a large mural on the pavement outside Heartbeat.

pastries and coffee

Heartbeat Cafe serves a range of hot drinks and pastries. Photo: Liv Cameron.

So far, the cafe has been popular with residents who are already living in the suburb, and they’re opening at 7 am for the tradies. During the week, people use the space to work or have meetings, and there is live music every Sunday.

“We had a jazz quartet from ANU come and people walking past were clapping, just sitting around and engaging,” said Katie.

“It is really exciting to see that happen; the sense of vibrancy and community is already building.”

The cafe looks out towards the Whitlam Ponds where local birdwatchers have recently been snapping photos of a family of hoary-headed grebes. The covered deck is a lovely space to sip a flat white and enjoy the surroundings of the Molonglo Valley.

person serving pastries from a cafe

Catherine supports the trainees in the cafe. Photo: Liv Cameron.

So far, the cafe is serving coffee and cold drinks alongside some simple cakes, pastries and hot pies. Joe Colbert explained that they’re looking for ways to utilise their commercial kitchen at Woden to supply the cafe with more food options and incorporate catering skills into the training program.

“[WCS is] looking to give people as many opportunities as possible to get gainful employment and feel like they can contribute back to society in general,” he said.

READ ALSO Woden Community Service connects seniors in the community through groups and fun activities

As participants progress their skills and build confidence at Heartbeat Cafe, there will also be further opportunities for work experience with other cafes and organisations that partner with WCS.

Joe said that the role of Heartbeat Cafe will change as the suburb grows and other local shops move in. He’s looking forward to seeing what the future holds for the program as Whitlam develops into a fully fledged community.

Heartbeat Cafe is located at 3 Klaus Moje Street, Whitlam. The cafe is open from 7 am to 3 pm Monday to Friday, from 7 am to 4 pm on Saturday and from 9 am to 4 pm on Sunday. Follow Heartbeat cafe on Facebook.

For more information about events in Whitlam, visit the Woden Community Service Facebook page and the Suburban Land Agency website.


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