Mt Victoria Manor has become the home of Australia's first social enterprise hotel staffed by hospitality trainees with intellectual disabilities supported by industry professionals.
The manor was built in 1876, by John R Fairfax, founder of The Sydney Morning Herald, as a Mountains retreat. Co-seed funding for the operation is now being supplied by the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation in what the foundation calls a "compelling cycle of Fairfax family legacy".
"Securing the support of the Fairfax family was a happy and welcome co-incidence ... a kind of sliding doors moment," founder and director of Hotel Etico Australia, Andrea Comastri said.
Founder of the first Hotel Etico in Italy, Alex Toselli brought the vision to Australia in 2017 when he met Mr Comastri. Mr Comastri loved the hotel when he visited the Mountains and helped ensure $500,000 in seed money would come from VFFF and the other philanthropists, Paul and Sandra Salteri.
Growing up in Italy, Mr Comastri had a friend who had down syndrome and was one of the few children to understand him.
"Being able to establish Hotel Etico has a special meaning for me" he said.
Mr Comastri has 25 years experience in the health and disability field and is excited about the project. He calls Mt Victoria "the sweet spot".
"The area is stunning, there is a thriving community. From the very beginning we were convinced it was the perfect location."
The hotel, like others in the chain, will offer a work, training and live-in program for people with intellectual disabilities aimed at providing them with a pathway to open employment.
The vision for Hotel Etico came about in 2009 in Northern Italy when a man with down syndrome, Niccolo Vallese, started working as an intern at his local restaurant. Niccolo was soon flourishing and the head chef Antonio De Benedetto realised his star intern's potential. It became the inspiration for the first Hotel Etico (Albergo Etico), in Asti in 2015. By the end of 2020 six hotels will be operating world-wide, with more in 2021. The story is even being made into a film.
Mt Victoria's Hotel Etico opened last month. Recruitment for the first group of six trainees has begun. They will start in February, with Niccol's restaurant opening a month later. The official opening is expected in winter. They are leasing the manor, but hope eventually to purchase it.
Globally there are 80 hospitality interns in training and 184 have graduated with 68 per cent moving on to open employment. Go to: www.hoteletico.com.au for careers information.
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