One Year On: Luke Terry, Toowoomba Clubhouse

Luke Terry, Executive Director of the Toowoomba Clubhouse, was recognised as the inaugural Social Enterprise Champion in 2015 for his work in pioneering the social enterprise movement in Toowoomba. A year and a half on, Luke says the award changed his life, starting conversations and opening new doors to drive his aspirations to grow social enterprise in Toowoomba even further.

Over the last 15 years, Luke has worked on 12 social enterprise projects and now leads the Toowoomba Clubhouse, an organisation supporting people who have experienced mental health issues. In 2012, Luke also helped to establish Ability Enterprises, a labour hire business servicing local procurement opportunities and creating employment for people experiencing disadvantage.

Luke’s significant work pushing Toowoomba’s social enterprise market forward attracted the attention of the sector, receiving three nominations for the 2015 Social Enterprise Champion Award and ultimately being selected as the winner.

“It was a real surprise because I’m not one to enter things,” says Luke, “For me [the Award] was brilliant, but I underestimated what would happen from it.”

Shortly after receiving the Award, Luke unexpectedly found himself in the spotlight. An ABC Australia-wide documentary was produced on the Toowoomba Clubhouse’s , social enterprise programs including Ability Enterprises, Bounce Coffee and the nascent Laundry project.

Following the media attention, support for his other projects also increased, particularly around Luke’s latest venture developing Vanguard Laundry, a commercial laundromat that will service a nine year linen contract for the local St Vincent’s Private Hospital and also act as a local career development centre, providing opportunities for training and employment for Toowoomba Clubhouse members.

“We’ve had some amazing wins on raising $5m for Laundry and the conversations always start with ‘Luke is a Social Enterprise Awards winner’, it just adds a bit of credibility when you start off from that,” says Luke, “We’ve also got a higher profile with our local council now, we’ve been talking to major multi-billion dollar companies in Queensland about procurement. The town woke up to the fact that what we’re doing is a really good thing,”

Along with opening new doors and business opportunities, Luke also counts receiving the Award as a moment of personal affirmation for him, having pursued his dream of working in social enterprise ever since leaving school.

“I remember going to the school careers advisor and asking if I could do something a little bit social but combined with business, not knowing what a social entrepreneur was,” Luke recalls, “I’ve spent the last 15 years working, trying to do something but not really sure if I’m achieving it, so [the Award] was a real moment of arrival for me, I remember being up on stage thinking, 'I’ve arrived today. I’m a social entrepreneur.’”

Whilst Luke is proud of his personal achievements, he is hoping the Awards will inspire the next generation of social entrepreneurs to start working on more projects and he’ll see more people moving into the sector.

“We need to put a spotlight on the really successful enterprises and the sector as a whole to inspire young people to go and do more of this - we need the younger people to go and do it!”

As Luke prepares to hand on the title of Social Enterprise Champion, he reflects on the experience of the last year and a half as being pivotal in driving his work forward, saying “because of the award we’ve been able to achieve so much more and I truly believe it’s because the Award helped to raise the profile."

For other enterprises and entrepreneurs considering entering this year’s Social Enterprise Awards, Luke’s advice is simple.

“There’s nothing else in Australia that recognises social entrepeneurs and their enterprises. This is it. It’s a good experience, you learn from it and you get to network with other social enterprises and partners at the same time.”

Applications for the Social Enterprise Awards 2016 are now open until Friday 2nd September. See all the awards categories and details on how to enter at www.seawards.com.au

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