The Australian dream of the quarter acre block might be changing in Canberra with increasing numbers of high-rise apartments being built. But for those enjoying the suburban backyard life, there is only one thing marring the joy of the great backyard – mowing the lawn. And if you think it is hard, spare a thought for those on a low income who struggle to pay for a lawn mower let alone putting petrol in it.
The Mower Shed is a social enterprise developed by UnitingCare Kippax. UnitingCare Kippax is a community service agency that assists people in the ACT who struggle with low income, housing stress, relationship problems and social disadvantage. Now they also have a fleet of lawn mowers.
During Anti-Poverty Week in 2013 a group of people met to discuss the problem that many people on low income cannot readily afford to hire things like tools and lawn mowers from commercial hire companies. In 2014, UnitingCare Kippax launched a program to provide lawn mowers for free to low-income earners. The service includes a safety briefing on how to use a lawn mower; many people have no idea how to even start a mower, let alone service it (and I must admit I am in the same category, one of the reasons I sold my suburban block and moved to a low maintenance apartment).
The program worked well for two years, and in fact worked so well that UnitingCare Kippax decided that the model needed a reliable income stream for it to be sustainable longer term. So rather than just a program of charitable giving, they have turned it into a social enterprise called The Mower Shed. This means that people in West Belconnen can now hire a lawn mower from The Mower Shed ($15 for concession holders plus $10 delivery) – and The Mower Shed will also take your grass clippings away for you as well. Non-concession holders can hire a lawn mower for $40. Customers who wish to ‘pay it forward’ can also opt to pay an additional “help us out” fee that goes towards the cost of providing a loan of a mower or even mowing a lawn for someone in need.
The program is so much more than just lawnmowers. According to UnitingCare Kippax’s Deputy Executive Officer Michael Nurmi, the vision for The Mower Shed is about being an agent of positive change. “We want to make change in our community by creating opportunity,” he said.
The Mower Shed is working with UnitingCare Kippax’s Kippax Connections Program to help provide people with work readiness skills, and also working in conjunction with the Youth Hub at Belconnen Community Services. The Mower Shed currently employs around eight people, who have difficulty gaining or maintaining employment. For example some have mental health issues, while others are long-term unemployed or are young and find it difficult to get a foot in the employment market.
“The idea is that we identify people who want a chance and need a bit of assistance,” Michael said. “We hope with time that our employees will gain skills not just in lawn mowing but administrative, financial and organisational roles as well, that will allow them to then transition to other jobs in the community.”
In the meantime, The Mower Shed has a strong team of workers and is keen to provide opportunities for more. “We have been approached by one man, for example, who has autism. He just loves mowing lawns and does an excellent job with strong attention to detail. We’re hoping he’ll be able to work with us as part of a team that includes volunteers who will support him as much as he is supporting us. ” The Mower Shed’s team is currently working on several projects including in the new Ginninderry development in West Belconnen.
What: Hire of lawn mowers and basic gardening services, with special rates for concession holders
Where: Available to clients in West Belconnen, based at Kippax Uniting Church
Contact: UnitingCare Kippax, phone (02) 6254 1733