By Justin Flynn
An initiative to provide safe and supportive employment for people living with severe and complex mental health issues is taking off on the Bellarine Peninsula.
The WHOLE Bean Project is the brainchild of Clifton Springs residents Dr Christopher Groot and Darren Cullinane who also operate Bellarine Coffee Roasters.
Chris and Darren are in the first stage of their project, roasting coffee and are open for retail sales online and wholesale supply to Bellarine cafes and restaurants.
They are also passionate about employing local people with mental health issues.
Other than employment, the project aims to reduce stigma through online and ‘on-the-ground’ initiatives through Bellarine Coffee Roasters and to support stigma reduction research and mental health initiatives.
Much of Chris’ work as an academic psychologist at University of Melbourne is focussed on research about severe and complex mental illnesses and stigma.
In 2019/20, he led the research for the National Stigma Report Card. In this study, he investigated the experiences of stigma and discrimination of 1912 people across Australia who live with severe and complex conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar, personality disorders and more.
“We discovered that they were affected by stigma and discrimination about their mental health problems both frequently and pervasively across numerous areas of life,” Chris said.
“Some problem key areas were relationships, community participation and employment. The experience of analysing and publishing the results was so profound – reading nearly 2000 stories of undeserved marginalisation is really quite a transformative experience.
“I simply felt compelled to do more to address the issue, and meaningful change at a local level seemed like a good place to start.”
Chris and Darren need to sell coffee to grow the business and employ more people.
“Once we build capacity through more sales in the coming months, our aim is to secure a Bellarine location that is open to the public,” Chris said.
“Now that we have commenced online coffee sales, we are in the process of recruiting our next local employee with lived experience.
“Every bag of coffee sold increases our capacity to employ more people living with mental health problems that may otherwise preclude them from employment opportunities for one reason or another.”
Chris and Darren are keen to hear from Bellarine businesses that might be interested in co-locating or who might have space for a coffee roastery.
To buy coffee or for more information, see bellarinecoffeeroasters.com.au or follow them on Instagram and Facebook at @bellarinecoffeeroasters.
Chris has also started Bellarine Peninsula Mental Health Network on Facebook.