Tuesday 17 November 2020


This year marked Scarf’s 10th birthday, and it was going to be our biggest, busiest and most impactful year yet. Covid had other ideas. 

In the early days of the pandemic I kept asking myself – what is Scarf’s role, while restaurants are closed? How can we ensure we provide valuable support to our trainees and graduates during a period of such uncertainty and challenge?

Well, it’s been a bit of an uphill battle, especially with the seemingly never-ending lockdown and the significant job shortages.

But our small team has done its best to hold hope for our community of trainees and graduates, while shifting from hands-on hospitality training to to provide more focused wellbeing support, in a culturally-sensitive, trauma-informed way.

We’ve used technology to keep our community connected and continued to provide relevant training and one-to-one job readiness support so our participants have the best chance at finding employment as Melbourne opens back up. We've run interactive online sessions involving lots of our awesome graduates and mentors, and created plenty of new resources which will serve our trainees now and well into the future. To find out more about Scarf’s focus in 2020, take a look at this news piece.

As 2020 draws to a close, I wanted to update the Scarf Community on some key changes as our team get ready to draw a line under this very strange year as we move into our second decade (!) of operating. We’re excited to launch into 2021 – a year which we’re sure will look very different to this one!

Something which has kept us grounded and focused this year is our strategic plan, an important document which underpins everything our organisation does. In late 2018, our team, board, and a bunch of other stakeholders, including Scarf graduates, put a lot of time into developing our 2019 - 2022 Strategic Plan. We’re a small organisation but we have big dreams! And our strategic goals span beyond trainees and graduates, to mentors, partner restaurants and sponsors, and of course you – our supporters and diners. If you haven’t seen it, we’d love you to take a look at our Strategic Plan to see how our purpose and goals remain current, even when circumstances dramatically change.

We’ve spent the past few years operating with quite a big team; at one stage the work was spread across seven of us, with everyone contributing their piece part time! But in 2019, our team (and how we manage the organisation) began to change. There were three long-planned departures as some of our key players moved into full-time roles in their respective industries of hospitality, social work, and education/training, and other shifts because of changes in circumstances.

- Jonny Ainscough managed Scarf Dinners for three years with unparalleled positivity, and provided incredible guidance for team after team of trainees and mentors. We were sad to farewell him following Winter Scarf ‘19, but happy to see him move into a bigger role with Melbourne’s renowned European Group, especially as he also helped line up jobs there for four Scarf graduates, Emilio, Diana, Sanjay and Negasi. Fun fact: Jonny was a volunteer mentor in our very first program in 2010

- After joining Scarf as a volunteer mentor in 2013 and bringing a wealth of social work experience, Mae Vincent pioneered wellbeing and job readiness for our trainees and helped us forge important connections to the community sector. Mae co-ordinated our graduate focus group and provided invaluable training and guidance to ensure our staff and volunteers took a trauma-informed approach – crucial to working sensitively and successfully with people from asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds.

- From 2016, Ruth Langley ensured Scarf training was super accessible for all trainees with our approach to hands-on hospitality. Ruth planned and lead tons of training sessions and venue tours, and used her incredible industry networks to rally countless hospo professionals as mentors and trainers. She also supported plenty of graduates to transition from Scarf into hospitality jobs, helping us maintain our 6 month post-program employment rate of 72%. 

- From 2018 – 2020 Jen Conroy Smith undertook numerous projects to strengthen Scarf’s operations, including launching our new website and coordinating our involvement in the development of Social Ventures Australia’s Review, an evaluation toolkit to help design and plan work-readiness programs, identify potential improvements and demonstrate outcomes. Jen provided exceptional support to trainees through recruitment, program design and training supervision, multiple graduation dinners and Scarf Turns 10 – our only event in 2020! 

- Liz Grady contributed an enormous amount to the organisation over eight years, after joining as a volunteer in 2012 and then taking on a key role in the management team in 2014. From starting the Scarf Ambassador program, to spearheading integral partnerships with restaurants, sponsors and donors and getting top notch media coverage to ensure as many Melburnians as possible know what a Scarf Dinner is! Liz also ran four successful Do More Than Dine fundraising dinners generating a massive $240,000 – enough funds to put 40 young people through our 10-week programs.

After Jonny, Mae and Ruth moved on from Scarf in late 2019, we started 2020 with a plan to move to a more streamlined team structure which would allow Scarf to remain effective, efficient and sustainable. With Liz and Jen leaving in 2020 and COVID continuing to wreak havoc on Melbourne’s restaurant industry (and in turn, greatly impacting our ability to run programs and generate income through Scarf Dinners),  we began to move to our new team structure.

Myself and the Scarf board are incredibly grateful to what each of our previous team members have contributed to the organisation, and I’m committed to ensuring all of the important work they’ve done will continue on well into the future.

As someone close to Scarf said to me recently, referring to the pandemic, “Everything has changed. Change everything.”  Well, there are a few things which won’t change (like our values, which include respect, togetherness, possibility and equity), but as the year draws to a close it’s become obvious that much of the “business as usual” at Scarf is due for a shake-up!

Hospitality has always been at our core and will remain so, but it’s likely that programs and Scarf Dinners will look different in 2021. We’re conscious that our incredible restaurant partners have had a tumultuous year, and that they’ll need some time and space to adjust to operating in a Covid-normal world, before we come knocking! And as always, we’ll continue evaluating and reflecting, listening to our graduates and mentors, to ensure Scarf remains relevant and impactful. Nothing like a lockdown to lull you into a period of serious reflection.  

So, things at Scarf will look different in 2021, but our Strategic Plan remains in place, and our Vision, Mission and Values are still at the centre of everything we do. Right now, the Scarf team is smaller than ever, but we’re mighty (if we do say so ourselves!)

By shifting to a few key people having greater responsibility for leading and managing our core work, we can be even more responsive to our trainees and graduates, and build stronger connections with partners and supporters, while keeping our collaborative style.  

If you’re wondering what the Scarf team looks like at the moment, here’s a snapshot:

Neil Baxendale has done an epic job of supporting participants this year, particularly graduates who lost their jobs back in March. After two years in the team (and prior to this, volunteering as a mentor since 2014 and dining at plenty of Scarf Dinners), Neil has become Scarf’s Wellbeing and Job Readiness Manager. He will juggle this role with his other job in the homelessness sector, and his newest and arguably most exciting gig in 2020 – becoming a dad to Benjamin.

We’re also super grateful to Mel Ross, our tireless Volunteer Bookings Manager who’s been in the team for five years helping manage reservations, donations, merchandise sales and lots of other admin bits and pieces. Without her, the wheels may well have fallen off!

A notable move for them team has been hiring Mir Bugti, who graduated from Scarf in 2016 and began an incredible trajectory into the world of hospitality. Mir’s been running the front of house at Super Ling for two years, which he continues to do whilst undertaking the role of Scarf Restaurant and Training Manager. With his strong connections to hospitality, Mir is currently connecting with trainees and recent graduates through Scarf Zoom workshops, and sharing job opportunities and training resources to help our participants become more job-ready. 

As soon as Scarf Dinners are back in action, Mir will be at the helm in our partner restaurants, providing tons of support and inspiration to our new teams of trainees. Hiring a Scarf Graduate into the leadership team is a full-circle moment for the organisation, and one which we’re super proud of.

Oh, and I’ve recently stepped up from General Manager to CEO, a role which will see me to lead Scarf into our second decade of social impact. As I write this, we’ve seen close to 250 young people graduate from Scarf programs with huge increases in confidence, skills and networks, and it’s exciting to imagine what’s to come, especially once we start shimmying our way back into restaurants!

2020 has actually provided some really great opportunities for Scarf to expand our impact too – in June we became the auspice organisation for COVID-19 E.A.D, an NFP who to date have provided over 55,000 meals (and a hugely supportive community) to hospitality workers left jobless in the pandemic. Running Stay Home with Scarf allowed us to highlight some epic achievements of Scarf Graduates whilst encouraging diners to support local restaurants.

Excitingly, we also welcomed two new Scarf Ambassadors into the fold, who have already shared some very encouraging words with our trainees and graduates. Coskun Uysal and Thi Le have both carved out seriously successful careers in hospitality by modernising their respective cuisines of Anatolian and Vietnamese for delighted Melbourne diners. And recently, we were chuffed that Scarf was named a finalist in the 2020 Ethical Enterprise Award. Of course, we’re all super keen get Scarf Dinners back up and running, and as soon as we can start making plans to do so safely, we will let you know!


To all our supporters – thank you for hanging on with us in 2020. We can’t wait to see you in 2021 for what is sure to be a ripper year.



Hannah Brennan

Scarf Co-Founder & CEO


PS. If you’re keen to support Scarf, please take a squiz at our 10th birthday collaboration with Olana Janfa. We have lots of beautiful, locally made products available and all sales will help provide crucial funding for next year’s programs. You can also make a tax-deductible donation to Scarf here



Header photos: Scarf Dinner at Higher Ground (taken in 2018 by Linsey Rendell), Hannah and Olana with Scarf's 10th birthday painting (photo: Peter Tarasiuk) & '10' taken by graduate Hayuran - Kaniography - at Scarf's 10th birthday party in March 2020. See more of Hayuran's ace photos from the party here