72. Joanne Rockwell

20 Nov

joanne

Joanne Rockwell is a go-getter. In 2006 the Co-Founding board member started Boots For All, a sports equipment recycling charity and store, when she realised nothing existed to help disadvantaged people with limited access to sport. Since then the charity has grown and gone from strength to strength.

“Boots For All started after a close person passed away and it was during a period of acute grief,” Rockwell tells me as we sit in a room at the Banyule City Council offices. “At the same time I met some women visiting Melbourne from Maningrida, which is a remote community in Northern Australia.”

They were in Melbourne to buy football boots for their sons and grandsons who were about to play in a grand final in Darwin.

“The women were embarrassed their sons weren’t playing in football boots. I thought, oh wow, we’ve got several pairs at home. I was also the registration director of the local St Mary’s Junior Football Club at the time and we had more than 650 juniors. So I thought, we could collect some footy boots and drop them off to a charity or recycling sports equipment store.”

Rockwell found nothing when she looked for a charity that already did this. “So I got a team together and we made a start.”

Initially, Boots For All just started with footy boots. As they grew, though, they expanded to include “all codes of sport and all items including footwear, clothing and equipment.”

They have sent out close to 70,000 items to children and teens across Australia, and have spent five years advocating to the federal government to have barriers to sport included in the definition of poverty. Rockwell’s advocacy paid off. The tax act has been changed to include barriers to sport within the definition to poverty.

“Fundamentally our organisation is based on respect. So everything we do is founded on respectful relationships and treating people in our business with respect and treating our recipients with respect.”

Boots For All’s focus on respect extends to the condition of the sports equipment, all of which are hand-washed. “We have a philosophy. If we wouldn’t like to receive it we don’t send it.”

Through this, Boots For All have gained a reputation of being extremely trustworthy and have gained well-known partners and supporters. Essendon FC is the founding partner of Boots For All and Rockwell has been able to connect with Australia Post, Commonwealth Bank and Netball Victoria to name a few.

Alongside the aim to break down barriers to sport, Rockwell is committed to helping break downs barriers to social isolation, such as being unable to find paid employment, by employing young people and providing volunteer positions for work in the store.

“People coming through our volunteer program actually were getting really high quality training and on the job experience, but weren’t getting publicly recognised or being able to put that on their resumes. So that motivated us to formalise our on the job work experience and training program.”

Ultimately, this has resulted in a partnership with Box Hill Institute and the establishment of an accredited training and employment program. This program was started to help provide support to deliver accredited pre-employment training to 90 young people in the community who face barriers to employment.

“We found some of the feedback and reflections on the project was that some people could benefit from pre-employment training and accredited on the job work experience and  vocational training before they commit to particular area of either warehousing or retail for their apprenticeship.”

“We partnered first with the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation to provide apprenticeships in retail and we’ve had a really great initial cohort of 9 people. We’ve re-employed 5 of those graduates within our social enterprise sports store.”

“There are lots of young people in our community that have a lot of great skills and a lot of experience to bring to a business and to bring to an organisation. Having flexible employment environments to people to learn on the job and get that foot in the door to be able to develop their skills and increase their capacity for work is really important.

“By not providing those flexible environments, our society and our community are really missing out on benefiting from what our young people in our community have got to contribute.”

Rockwell is looking forward to the future of Boots For All, and hopefully continue it’s growth.

“We’d love to have a Boots For All store in every state and territory. We’d love to be across more regions, to connect with more people in our community that could benefit from quality accredited training and on the job work experience and paid employment.”

With such a passion and drive, it is clear Rockwell and her team will achieve this.

The Boots For All store is located in Briar Hill. People who want to get involved can volunteer in a variety of roles or can donate sporting equipment. For more information visit their website https://www.bootsforall.org.au.

Words: Charlotte Long

Picture: Luca Johns

 

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