22 April 2021

Mill House a catalyst for grass-roots social change

| Katrina Condie
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Edwina Robinson and Thor Diesendorf

The Climate Factory’s Edwina Robinson (right) and Thor Diesendorf from Thor’s Hammer, who gifted a recycled timber bench and funds for plants. Photo: Gary Marshall.

In almost every hidden corner of Canberra, you’ll find change-makers. Ordinary people with big dreams who are having an incredible impact in their communities.

From a micro-forest in Downer to an alternate performing arts hub in the heart of Belconnen, these social enterprises all started out as a simple idea that came to fruition with the help of the team at Mill House Ventures.

Edwina Robinson’s vision to convert disused wasteland into community micro-forests is just one of dozens of success stories from around the ACT and southern NSW that will be celebrated when Mill House Ventures launches its impact report and new program on 28 April.

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The event will showcase Edwina’s landscape architecture practice, The Climate Factory, which successfully crowdfunded and worked with the community to plant 1800 trees, shrubs and grasses to transform a park into an urban oasis.

With a mission to empower people to plant the planet, Edwina launched The Climate Factory in 2019 after Australia had its hottest and driest summer on record.

With the help of mentors and business professionals at Mill House, she says she was able to ignite her passion to plant cooling forests in urban hot spots around Australia, including Canberra.

“The Mill House program helped with marketing and attracting crowdfunding for the project,” Edwina said.

“They get you to really think about what is the problem you are trying to solve, who are your customers and who is going to pay.

“Mill House provided a mentor to help write a business plan and create financial spreadsheets.

“They make you sit down and think about your idea as a business and work out how it will work in the real world.

“There’s no way I would be where I am now without them.”

Edwina’s urban micro-forest attracted more than $23,000 in crowdfunding from 189 supporters, plus a $15,000 government grant and involved 120 volunteers.

It’s been a huge hit, inspiring community groups in nearby Watson and Holt to begin crowdfunding for their own micro-forests.

Flazeda Hub dancers

The Flazeda Hub’s fabulous fan dancers. Photo: Captavitae Photography.

Mill House Enterprise Development Manager Irene Lemon says “impact practitioners” such as Edwina are incredible people who dream about how the world can be a better place, but who don’t have the business confidence to make those dreams become a reality.

She says Mill House works with individuals and businesses that seek to trade for purpose.

“Entrepreneurs that are passionate about solving problems in the community often face barriers to business education and investment,” she said.

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Edwina is one of 78 social entrepreneurs who have graduated from Mill House’s GRIST accelerator program since the company was launched four years ago, with 40 per cent of those graduates operating a successful venture.

In that time, people’s big ideas have been transformed into 67 new public spaces or community events and more than $200,000 has been raised by GRIST graduates to scale their social enterprise.

Irene says graduates can be found in every corner of Canberra, working on community projects ranging from youth homelessness and food insecurity projects, to environmental campaigns and even alcohol-free cocktails.

“We’re across all business industries and across all sectors,” she added.

Base Soaps, Bungendore took part in the Mill House program.

Base Soaps, Bungendore took part in the Mill House program. Photo: Bradley Cummings.

The impact report launch will celebrate the diverse range of people that are creating social change and will culminate with a presentation by Canberra’s internationally acclaimed burlesque performer Rachel Reid.

Also known as Jazida, Rachel enlisted the help of Mill House mentors to help establish the Flazéda performing arts hub to support the professional development of alternate performing artists, such as burlesque, drag and belly dancers.

This year, Mill House is focusing on social enterprises to support our region’s post-COVID recovery by providing support for individuals that are disproportionately impacted including youth, women, migrants and people working in creative industries.

For change-makers who are thinking of starting a for-purpose venture, the program launch will be a great opportunity to learn more about the services and programs on offer.

The fund-raising program launch and celebration will be held at the Boiler House at the University of Canberra’s Bruce Campus, with tickets available from Humanitix.

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