A Safe Space to Grow

Wednesday 26 August 2020

When people fall on hard times Vinnies services are there to get them back on their feet.

In the heart of Sydney the Ozanam Learning Centre provides disadvantaged members of the community with a safe space to belong, gain skills and express themselves.

Sitting above the Vinnies service – which shares the roof space with Mathew Talbot Hostel - in Woolloomooloo is a rooftop garden where both hostel residents and centre members tend to a range of fresh produce used by Ozanam Learning Centre to enable education and living skills programs.

With some of the many challenges facing people experiencing homelessness being poor nutrition and an inability to afford fresh produce, the services offered through the centre’s rooftop garden are helping to reduce that disadvantage.

For Laura Frangelli, our Community Inclusion Leader based at the centre, the chance to put her background in permaculture and sustainable agriculture to use helped to turn a skyline view into a vibrant haven for people on the margins.

“When I started at the Ozanam Learning Centre about three years ago, I noticed that there were a number of large planter boxes on the rooftop that were unused, unkept and in dire need of love and attention,” explains Laura.

“When I raised the idea of revitalising the space it was received with a mix of excitement and hesitation. There were thriving gardens in the past, but there were concerns over the space it was going to take up.”

Replicating the gardening program run by the nearby Bourke Street Community Garden to the centre’s rooftop, in the space of three months a cast of 50 residents and service users helped to develop an edible garden that formed the basis for something larger.

“Over time people embraced the change and came to appreciate the beauty and opportunities it could provide.”


Expanding to a vegetable and fruit garden midway through last year, aspiring gardeners have been provided with employment pathways as part of the TAFE horticulture course, while centre members are able to make use of the fresh produce during weekly cooking classes.

“There are usually two garden sessions a week – garden group and Introduction to Horticulture run through TAFE. Outside of those times there are a number of engaged people who manage the maintenance and watering of the garden.

“The garden supplies a bounty of fresh fruit and vegies every week for the cooking and baking classes to make use of. There’s also the opportunity to learn about food and where it comes from, as well as a deeper connection to nature and what we put into our bodies.

Having been involved with Vinnies from her days as a teenage volunteer, Laura continues to support our good works by bringing people together through food.

“It has been incredible watching people’s faces light up as they see a broccoli grow for the first time or the pride people display when the food they grew is being eaten and enjoyed by a group of people.

“One of the most beautiful garden moments was last Christmas when we harvested mounds of fresh corn, zucchini, tomatoes, basil and so much more and the cooking class members cooked an incredible feast for 70 people!”



Thanks to the support of our donors, services like the rooftop garden are able to give people the skills they need to succeed.