Clear Paws Dog Wash owner Patrick Bellamy shows the benefits of embracing disabled people in the workforce | Newcastle Herald

Clear Paws Dog Wash owner Patrick Bellamy shows the benefits of embracing disabled people in the workforce | Newcastle Herald

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IT’S that old catch-22 that any job-seeker knows all too well: you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. Patrick Bellamy, 32, decided to break that cycle a decade ago, becoming one of Newcastle’s biggest disability innovators in the years that followed. But the down-to-earth Georgetown local wouldn’t describe himself that way – Bellamy says it’s always been about taking a “common sense” approach to helping people. Bellamy was a 22-year-old barista at now-defunct Hamilton cafe Rolador when he was asked to show a group of disabled clients at Response Disability Services how to make coffee. On his first day of class, Bellamy took one look at the hokey coffee pod machine and pitched a standalone cafe to Response instead. “It was almost like a classroom environment, it wasn’t a realistic true cafe environment,” Bellamy says. The concept was simple: Char’s Cafe, in Broadmeadow, would have three disabled staff members trained on the job each day, preparing food with the chef, learning how to make Newcastle-standard coffee from the barista and offering service with a smile at the counter. Bellamy said parents of the clients would pop into the cafe to have their order taken by their loved one, “and half of them would start crying because they were so happy to see them in a working environment”. Bellamy, who threw himself into disability support and crafted the training program while managing the bustling cafe, described the clients’ reactions as “the most powerful part”. “If we were making coffee together in the afternoon, and they’d smash a perfect one out… seeing their enjoyment, that’s the stuff that keeps you coming back.” Char’s has since grown to four locations: Mayfield, Newcastle CBD, Broadmeadow and Warners Bay, and has seen hundreds through the doors of their program. But Bellamy, who ran Char’s Cafe for four years, said overcoming people’s preconceived notions about disability was a challenge he didn’t see coming. “So many people put people with a disability into a box where, when it comes to food service, the two don’t mix,” he says. “But time has shown that the concept works.” After he left Char’s, Bellamy did stints working in a disability summer camp in upstate New York, and as a national disability coordinator at Integrated Living Australia, but realised training was his calling. It was this that led him to launch his newest venture in January – Clear Paws, a dog grooming service – in partnership with former colleagues Chris Gibson, 44, and Scott Redman, 38. “We were like… ‘What’s the number one goal of almost every one of our clients we’ve ever worked with over the years?’,” he recalls. “It’s almost always: ‘I want to work with animals’.” The trio of guys, who launched their own disability service called Clear Sky in May 2018, designed a 12-week training program for clients who have a goal of gaining employment. But they aren’t slung menial tasks like sweeping floors or washing towels at Clear Paws – it’s hands-on, Bellamy says, working closely with the professional groomers and learning the tricks of retail service, with support staff there to guide the whole process. In the beginning, he says the whole model was “a new, one-of-a-kind thing, everything was done kind of freestyle”, but these days Clear Sky’s framework is so airtight, the NDIS recommends it to others in the space. “We do things like, when we interview for new staff, we bring our clients in to do the interviews, or when we write new programs, we get the clients to help write them,” he says. Bellamy is blown away by the response, not only from the clients – the next two Clear Paws staff rotations are full and there’s a waiting list for the third – but from parents, too. “I think they’re so moved, they can see that there’s so much more potential for their son or daughter, not just sitting in a group home for the rest of their lives.” And Bellamy says there are lots of laughs along the way, particularly in experiencing the indulgence and pampering of the now-billion-dollar pet care industry. “If you’d said to me I’d be working in dog grooming 10 years ago… it’s a very interesting niche world!” he says. But Bellamy is grateful that a simple coffee class led him to discover his passion for empowering the disabled.

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