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Foundation funds First Hand; opens new grant round

22 August 2014

In its latest grant round, Westpac Foundation recently selected eight of the most innovative social enterprises around Australia to receive a total of $580,000 in Seed Grant funding.

One of the stand-out recipients was First Hand Solutions, a social enterprise which educates on Indigenous culture and creates employment opportunities in La Perouse, Sydney.

Established by Peter Cooley and Sarah Martin, one of First Hand’s key projects is the Black Markets which are held on La Perouse’s Bare Island each month, with up to 25 stalls selling bush tucker and artifacts crafted by members of the local community.

It’s an innovative approach to addressing the issues facing the community - the markets provide employment while at the same time helping the local community celebrate and reconnect with its culture.

“When I was a kid the elders used to take us out and teach us about our culture, but then it stopped,” says CEO Peter Cooley.

“I believe it’s so important for young Indigenous people to connect with their culture, just knowing that they’re part of something bigger can help them,” he says.

“It has really brought the local community together - one of our shell workers is in her 90s, and she’s handed down her skills so that her daughter, grand-daughter and great grand-daughter work at the same table with her – that wasn’t happening before,” says Peter.

In addition to the markets, First Hand Solutions runs a range of programs including Indigenous culture immersion days for corporate clients, weaving workshops and catch and cook fishing tours.

Susan Bannigan, Executive Officer of the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation, says she’s not surprised by the success of First Hand.

“When I first met Peter and Sarah, I was intrigued by them and their plans to make a difference in their community, and I was also very impressed with their tenacity,” she says.

“They were already well advanced in their plans. We fund programs which are financially viable and supported by the community, and First Hand met both criteria.

“Ultimately I believe First Hand won’t need to rely on philanthropy, and we’re very proud to support them through this building phase until they’re ready for more traditional forms of funding”.

Throughout the grant application process, First Hand was mentored by Westpac Director of Global Capital Markets Tim Stalker.

“First Hand had good initial success, and we encouraged them to think about building a strong bench of stall holders so they had people who could step in when needed,” he says.

“From the outset it was easy to see the potential. It was all there, we just worked with Sarah and Peter to help set realistic and achievable goals to support their grant application and to identify the areas of growth for the markets.”
One of those goals is to build First Hand’s profile as a tourist attraction, both domestically and internationally.

“There is an appetite for Indigenous culture, we’ve been invigorated by the enthusiasm of the response to the markets and cultural activities,” says Sarah.

But while visitor numbers are one measure of success, the most important yardstick for Sarah and Peter is the impact on the community.

“Our focus is empowerment through education, and the Westpac funding has given us the ability to maximise those opportunities,” says Peter.

“Employing Aboriginal people in urban Aboriginal communities telling the story of their culture will be my ultimate definition of success.”

Westpac Foundation’s next round of Seed Grants, worth up to $100,000 each, is now open for expressions of interest until 30 September 2014.

Support for Indigenous Australian social enterprises is one of the ways we are making progress on the commitments of our newly launched Reconciliation Action Plan, available online at