Rethinking the Social Studio

Rethinking The Social Studio | Dewi Cooke

If this pandemic has shown us anything, it's that we can, if forced to, rethink all the old norms about how we live and work.

For us at The Social Studio—a vocational training organisation for creatives from refugee backgrounds—reimagining work means we’ve had to reconsider what our fashion school looks like when traditional modes of teaching are upended. And as a manufacturing social enterprise accustomed to working in a highly scheduled way, we’ve also learned to pivot—fast.

Here, the philosophical blends with the practical. How do you deliver remote classes to students who don’t have wifi? How do you keep them inspired, connected and motivated through the world's longest lockdown? And how do you support workers to feel safe and secure when the world feels anything but?

For us, the answers come down to a simple principle: above all, be human. In all our interactions with our staff and community we acknowledge the monumental challenges that the pandemic presents and we scale our expectations accordingly.

This plays out in different ways. COVID has exacerbated the digital divide that existed within our society, so we've done whatever we can to meet our students where they need us most. We've delivered mobile broadband sets to those with no wifi, and we've put recorded Zoom sessions on YouTube for those who can't make our live classes. We check in daily over phone, text, WhatsApp, email; we’ve organised drops of emergency food supplies and even sewing machines.

For months last year, one of our teachers set up a makeshift cutting table in his backyard, FaceTiming with students while simultaneously working on the same patterns they had at home. He did this on cold days, sunny days, windy days and rainy days. “Working from home” took on new meaning in his hands.

Likewise our manufacturing staff became a PPE-making workforce overnight when, in 2020, there was first a global shortage of medical scrubs and then, the Victorian government mandated facemasks. These items are now core to our operations and even allowed us to temporarily increase staff at a time when other businesses were contracting. This pivot was entirely new for us, but from these challenges has bloomed beautiful opportunities.

We’ve been forced to reassess, retool and remake ourselves more times than I can remember. But through it we’ve tried to keep the human purpose of our work at heart. Creativity, community, opportunity—in whatever the circumstances.


All images taken by and courtesy of Dewi Cooke

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