“My whole life has been connecting with community,” Barbara said. “It started when I decided I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone.”
Barbara began her community work as a 20-year-old at an Italian bakery in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, an iconic district in Melbourne. From 4 or 5 in the morning she would share bread with customers, drink cappuccinos and, in her best Italian, announce the names of the fresh breads on offer.
Then she became a tram conductor. She loved riding in the saloon facilitating a safe and friendly space for her passengers as they journeyed across the city. Conducting was a fine balancing act, weaving through the crowded tram as it swayed along the tracks. A unique workspace representing a microcosm of the city. Cultures living side by side, the old and young, the rich and poor. From all around the world and from all walks of life. It was a creative hub too, inspiring the actors, artists, writers and musicians among her passengers and peers. She collected stories and fares, and punched tickets on every trip. She helped the elderly, assisted people with disabilities, lifted prams, and hopped off the tram to change the points when the tracks diverged. Unlike ticket inspectors today, who police fare evasion and issue fines, tram conductors like Barbara were much-loved figures. “I threw myself into it and really found my first tribe”, she says. Tram conducting was a pivotal point in her finding her way of being in the world.
Moving back to Perth, Barbara became a tour guide and teller of social history stories from the cultural heritage exhibits in the WA Maritime Museum. She then started a community arts business, coordinating festivals, building floats and finding community participants for street parades and workshops.
Barbara now works with Chorus, an organisation supporting seniors, people with disabilities and those with mental health issues, where she is a leader in Rockingham. The compelling question is “how do I show up as a leader in my workplace?” which, she explains, is undergoing a major transition from a traditional hierarchical structure to a flat organization that works in bubbles. Our “purpose is to create community” by connecting people and resources in their neighbourhoods.
We support people to have the best life they can while living in their own homes. She sees leadership as coaching her team to be the best they can be and supporting them through the transition. For Barbara, “it’s not only about work. It’s my life!”, she exclaims, “a beautiful synergy.”
People see Barbara’s life as made up of lots of disparate jobs, whereas she sees a common track of community connecting them, like tram stops, along the way. She is embracing a new kind of leading that is more humane and respectful. “Things don’t have to be documented or in an email to be real,” she said. She is learning not to have unreasonable expectations of people, because we all have different stories, different lives. Her challenge, her inspiration, is taking what she has been learning in the Fellowship—including the Warm Data Lab process, storytelling and human-centred design—into her workplace. She is keen to explore and promote closer ties with Befriend and to better connect her colleagues and clients with Befriend’s offerings.
Barbara sees her Fellowship experience as helping her to become a leader in a new way. In particular, “how I coach my team through an amazing period of organisational change.” She feels the Fellowship was a very good fit for her because her experience in the course strongly aligns with this new way of working. She sees attending to the “warm data” and finding ways to take learnings into her organisation as essential to meaningful change. I’m enjoying “flexing my new leadership muscle”, she says.
She is delighted and infused with confidence that her organisation is super supportive of someone from Chorus participating in the Fellowship. She finds it amazing to be working in an organization where she can show up authentically.
This story was gathered in partnership with Barbara as she concluded her experience in The Possibility Fellowship 2023. Written 20 July 2023.