Fusion Cafe – St Mary’s
Social Enterprise – what is it? Basically it’s a business that does good and gives back. At it’s core the business is about more than cash money, it’s a business that has an investment in something greater: people, communities, the environment. We’ve highlighted some of our favourites on the blog before, and we are all about the idea.
Fusion Western Sydney is an organisation who work with youth and operate a Cafe in St Mary’s which is a great example of what a social enterprise is – the beautiful cafe with a minimal style that’s all about maximising connections in the community through quality coffee and giving skills to the younger ones amongst us. It’s a simple premise that contributes to the building of resilient young people, stronger families and safer communities.
We chatted with Fusion Youth Worker and Manager James and Barister Chris about the cafe that serves up community, connection and caffeine.
The Westies: Can you tell us a bit about why Fusion opened the cafe?
James: Basically the goal is to creatively engage with young people to see them thrive.
We had a dream from the start that we’d like the cafe to be a space of engagement and the face of Fusion in the community, a legitimate way to connect with the community. It is also a place of business, another stream of revenue for Fusion – we are a not-for-profit and have limited funding for the breadth of work that we undertake.
The Westies: How did you become involved with Fusion, James?
James: I’ve been at Fusion for nine years and I was employed as a youth worker initially. The job’s been slightly different in the last sort-of eighteen months I guess, particularly with the move here, so less youth work and more sort of oversight of what we do as a centre.
I had a passion for working alongside young people and I guess really helping them find their potential of who they are and what they can be. I think just giving young people an opportunity to try something new or to say “you did really well here”, just words of affirmation or encouragement, actually goes such a long way and that’s been really amazing thing.
The Westies: You’ve created a beautiful cafe that wouldn’t be out of place in Surry Hills or the inner city, was that intentional?
James: Yes. We didn’t want it to feel like we’re a charity and we kind of just get by. We wanted the business edge to communicate very strongly. I guess the legitimacy for the customers was pretty important for us from the start.
We knew that it wouldn’t phase too many people whether our coffee was a single origin or a blend but we wanted to give St. Mary’s the opportunity to have something that was special.
The Westies: How did you get involved, Chris?
Chris: I started here in February of this year. I was looking at lots of different jobs in hospitality around the mountains. I worked in a few of them but they only kept me for a few weeks at a time and then let me go. I knew James previously and reached out because he had mentioned the job was going. It was really awesome to know from the beginning that I would be secure here for a long time because up-front James said “We’re not going to let you go like other places might.” Now I’ve been here for over six months and it’s such a good fit for me.
The Westies: Did you know anything about Fusion before you worked here?
Chris: Yes, I actually attended a youth program when I was younger, at Fusion when it was down at the bowling club, it was a photography workshop. I remember the people there really taught me what I needed to know and it was a pretty key moment in learning the skills I have now. I remember Jeff [one of the teachers] was there, getting alongside me and not being like “oh I know a lot more than you” but just guiding me, it was really helpful for me. So I had that footing attending a youth program a long time ago.
The Westies: And do you think that experience made it easier for you to take the job here?
James: Yeah, definitely. And it’s such a creative community, I definitely fit into it I think. I feel like I belong here.
The Westies: You also teach Barista skills here, is that right?
James: Yes. We’re going to be starting up our youth barista program pretty soon
We take young people through the art of barista skills, coffee making as well as customer service, we talk about relationships, self-esteem and personal development, so we kind of intertwine analogies through coffee making, to teach life lessons. Young people that participate in that program will then have an opportunity to work in the cafe space to either give them some volunteer or paid experience.
The Westies: What do you think is so great about coffee?
Chris: I think it brings people together, I mean everyone drinks coffee these days. It’s a really interesting vehicle for communication. You can pretty much assume someone who walks into the cafe has a common appreciation for coffee so, it’s a good starting point for anything.
We get all the St. Mary’s High students that walk past and some come in, I love being one of the youngest people here because I can get on their level. I graduated last year so I can empathise with them in their exams and things like that, which is really cool.
Thanks James and Chris. I for one can say how great working in hospitality can be. I started my working life at Sizzler (google it kids) and although at the time I thought the biggest benefit was free cheese toast and all you can eat Sara Lee carrot cake I now look back and see how it gave me the foundations of where I am today, the skills I learnt working at an all you can eat restaurant are ones I still apply daily.
Interview: Katrina James
Photos: Katrina James