Inclusive Social Enterprise

Carmel Tulloch turned her dream for inclusion into an award-winning company

Her own life experience and a career dedicated to hospitality and training influenced CCP | Your Catering People’s Owner/Founder Carmel Tulloch to build a thriving social enterprise based on inclusivity and respect.

From the age of ten Carmel began working in kitchens to earn pocket money. Growing up, her family experienced hardship yet her mother’s generosity and compassion deeply influenced her mind-set.

“Our family was very poor, but despite our own poverty Mum continually opened up our doors to anyone in need,” says Carmel.

By the 90s Carmel’s passion for hospitality had developed, so too her dream of creating an inclusive workplace.

“I witnessed aging couples working day and night in their hotel, cafe, restaurant because they could not find or retain staff,” explains Carmel.

“And I saw people who did not have the gift of stable homes, wealth, quality education and so on unable to find a job. Why should these people be treated as less valuable to our society? The answer is that they shouldn't.”

Carmel realised a simple solution to a big problem lied in her mother’s legacy of an inclusive mind-set.

Finding the right fit

Carmel decided to take the leap in Toowoomba, Queensland and started her dream business – a business based on a triple bottom line, driven by social and community values and ethics.

The food services skills shortage listed by the Australian Government and the need for more inclusive businesses in regional areas influenced her business planning.

“The hospitality industry is one of the pathways for people to find empowerment and opportunity. It is a perfect industry to do this as it has low barriers to entry and is a sector that can open doors to people who need to upskill,” she explains.

“Often people with disabilities are overlooked for opportunities too and I believe we as a society need to collectively do more to be inclusive.”

With this core value Carmel founded CCP | Your Catering People in 2012 in Toowoomba and launched with the three guiding principles of People, Planet, Prosperity.

Her mission was to provide employment and training to people from marginalised backgrounds.

Since inception CCP has actively employed two people with disability each year as a minimum and the organisation goes above and beyond to ensure all its employees are empowered in the workplace.

Inclusion is easy

CCP General Manager Adam Archer works closely with registered training organisations and regional employment agencies.

Adam’s role is to lead daily work with the employee and their support network to ensure they are assigned tasks that are both challenging and empowering.

“It’s about looking at the person’s needs. For example, if an employee is living with mental illness, we adjust work times to suit whether they’re on certain medication or need to change it. Or we adjust workspaces if they require quiet areas in the workplace. Or if there is an employee with physical disability, we look at adapting the workplace utensils or equipment to suit their needs,” he explains.

A typical day for an employee with disability is the same as everybody else’s. As Adam describes, employees clock on, have a chat with their manager about tasks for the day, receive any required training, before getting to work.

Employees work on a range of functions in the business from serving people front of house to working in the kitchen.

“Over the years CCP has worked with many people from different backgrounds and different disabilities. We’ve learnt to find simple solutions to overcome barriers and adapt to the needs and support methods required for each employee,” he says.

Adam reflects on a time he worked through the various challenges to employment with an employee who is legally blind.

“The employee could see shadows, therefore CCP developed a way for the Point of Sale terminal screen to be ultra-magnified so that they could work comfortably in their Front of House position,” he says.

CCP also brought in a scanner so the employee could scan products to identify what they were serving customers.

The employee was able to use his cane to ensure clear passageways and all staff were trained and made aware that walkways needed to be kept clear in the workplace.

“This employee’s memory was amazing, and their courage and determination coupled with the teams’ commitment meant his time with CCP was inclusive and empowering,” reflects Adam.

Partnering for change

Carmel works closely with community leaders to monitor recruitment opportunities and form partnerships. Over the past seven years CCP has developed deep working relationships with training organisations and employment agencies around Queensland.

“We work closely with these organisations to ensure whenever they have vacancies or opportunities for a participant to join the team, that we can make a position and welcome this person onto the team,” she says.

“The organisations we work with are well informed of our workplace and know management very well. We have a great respect and admiration for these organisations, and we feel that this is mutual.”

CCP has learnt to navigate the NDIS model and funding supports and incentives available to assist with employing a person with disability.

“There are a range of different incentives to assist with employing a person with disability, hence it is important to work closely with the job service providers and training organisations to ensure that funding and support is engaged where necessary,” Carmel explains.

A community for everybody

Like all inclusive businesses, CCP reaps the benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workforce – a positive team culture, improved staff retention and a loyal customer following.

The welcoming culture at CCP is due to Carmel’s leadership. Everyone works together as a family, teaching and helping each other no matter what the individuals’ challenge.

“Each employee is given time, space and treated with the respect and compassion they deserve,” she says.

As part of its inclusive ethos the organisation actively recruits people from all marginalised communities, including First Nations people, new migrants, people re-entering society after prison, and school-based trainees.

“I have worked with and welcomed many people, from all walks of life. Some of these employees have spent some time and many dollars paying for a training qualification yet still require some coaching and nurturing – basically to be given a chance to find their feet in a workplace.”

Despite the hospitality industry being synonymous with having high turnover rates CCP have quietly achieved strong staff retention through leadership strategies such as having longstanding management staff focussed on building people up in a supportive team environment.

Business Development Manager Innez Tulloch said the bottom line was about offering more than just employment, but training, coupled with respect and kindness.

“Our culture and our values are based on [respect] and celebrating diversity, so through this we develop more meaningful work relationships and thus support each other's goals whilst achieving our business outcomes,” she explains.

Innez believes the Toowoomba community has become stronger and better as a result of having inclusiveness and diversity ingrained at a civic level.

“We have found our customers really enjoy getting to know the employees living with a disability and will spend time getting to know them and support them in their role, even making special visits on the days they may be working.”

Diversity for the win

In 2019 CCP was nominated for the Outstanding Employer Award at the Business DisABILITY Awards for employing people with disability.

Business Development Manager Innez Tulloch said the nomination was a solidifying moment of how far the organisation had come and the importance of nurturing an inclusive workplace.

“When we won, it was just an amazing feeling. It meant the world to [us], that the team’s dedication and Carmel’s vision had been recognised,” she reflects.

“CCP loves working collaboratively with Job Service providers, training organisations, carers and families to support people to achieve their goals in life”.

One CCP employee, Elise, was struggling to find a supportive workplace to support her to complete her Certificate in Hospitality. Elise has Asperger’s Syndrome and is Dyslexic, and this was proving to be a barrier to finding employment.

CCP created a suitable role for Elise where her support person is also part of the team.

Elise’s work and training has since been celebrated through her nomination as Queensland Young Achiever and her success was featured in the local newspaper.

An inclusive future

Trailblazer for inclusivity Carmel says despite the achievement to date, her work is never done in inspiring other community leaders.

“There is a great opportunity for people with disability working in any industry to overcome adversity, achieve career and employment goals and find empowerment through employment. Plus it comes with the added bonus of making friendships and bonds with others in the workplace and community.” she says.

“Most employers train to keep, I train to help someone find their way. Some staff have gone on to study in Higher Education, others to manage small cafes or kitchens. This is my motivation.”

As a result of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic, she hopes to see business models shift towards inclusivity and community level equality.

“I believe we can do better,” she states.

“I see this as an opportunity to break down barriers and work together to take back our power to live and contribute to our world and our community no matter what our colour, creed or social background.”

“We must value every life and allow people to contribute equally. I see inclusivity regardless of race, social background or disability to be important to society and I want to make sure that through my social enterprises I am able to meaningfully facilitate that happening.”

“Through my work I have seen that when people feel they have purpose, they feel valued. And they automatically take better care of themselves. The social good of being inclusive in human resources policy is measurable and visible.”

From Carmel’s humble beginnings as a ten-year-old she has seen first-hand the benefits of taking a chance on someone whether they are 'new' to a country, 'new' to a workplace, or 'new' to work.

“Fingers crossed a whole new world is opening up but if not, I can look back and be proud I took a chance.”