News / Community

New service hopes to make opportunity knock

A concert at CERES this Sunday will introduce the new organisation to the public

The Opportunity Lab founder and CEO Kathy Prior.

Mark Phillips
Monday, January 24, 2022

IT has been a long time since CERES Environmental Park in Brunswick East has echoed to the sound of music but it will come alive this Sunday when seven acts take the stage for a showcase of up-and-coming northside talent. 

Beginning at midday and running through to 7pm, the ‘Let the Show Begin (again)’ concert will feature a diversity of genres from the DIY indie of Convenience Store to the art pop of Kid Dingo to singer-songwriter Gracie Sinclair and finishing with a funky twilight set from Golden Hour. 

But behind the scenes, this concert has another purpose besides a good day’s entertainment. 

It has been conceived by Kathy Prior, founder and chief executive of a new Brunswick-based community organisation and social enterprise called The Opportunity Lab.  

She plans to use events like this to provide disengaged young people and women who have experienced domestic violence with opportunities to participate in the community and learn new skills. 

‘Let the Show Begin (again)’ was originally intended to be held in March last year but was postponed because of COVID-19. It is effectively the public launch of The Opportunity Lab, which Ms Prior established in 2020 to pursue a different approach to community work. 

After 25 years working in community services, higher education and government, she believes that community programs can sometimes be as disenfranchising as the trauma, disability, or lack of education that is at the root of an individual’s disengagement from society. 

The Opportunity Lab works with two specific groups: young people aged 15-25 years who are disengaged from learning, employment or who are about to leave school, often because they have experienced trauma or have a psycho-social, intellectual, learning or neurological disability; and women who have experienced family violence and who want support to get an education and a job. 

Ms Prior said the requirements and criteria for participating in community programs is often an additional barrier. The Opportunity Lab aims to be more flexible with less red tape. 

“As much as I’ve loved working in the community sector, I wanted a bit more flexibility around how to actually do this type of work. 

“If a young person says to me, I want to try this or do this, then we’re going to try and make that happen, because it’s about in the moment being responsive without them necessarily needing to commit. So if they try it and they don’t like it, then it’s like, what’s the next thing? 

“We don’t want to be another barrier to them accessing services and getting something in the moment.” 

The ‘Let the Show Begin (again)’ concert is an example of putting that approach into practice. Some of The Opportunity Labs clients have been involved in the planning of the event and will work on the day, but there is no obligation for them to do so. 

The organisation is also partnering with CERES by using its commercial kitchen facilities to provide face-to-face cooking classes for young people. 

The Opportunity Lab recently rented office space in the Brunswick Business Incubator in Victoria Street, and Ms Prior hopes to run a range of programs there. 

In the meantime, all the organisation’s energy is being directed at the concert on January 30, which is being supported through a grant from VicHealth. 

“As part of our social enterprise arm, we want to create work experience opportunities, whether that’s in planning an event or on the day. And we want to also provide an opportunity for performers to basically be able to get back on stage again, as well and do what they love to do. 

“Hopefully we can do it again and if this became a bit of an annual thing that would be kind of cool. It might be that we might even get young people who come through our program, and end up on stage, that would be a goal down the track as well. It’s all about music and connecting people. That’s really important.” 

Full day tickets for the concert begin at $25, and tickets for individual sessions are also available for $13. Full details are available at The Opportunity Lab’s website