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Social enterprise Red Tops coffee arrives at Heidelberg

Image of two me standing beside sign that states "Red Tops is coming"
Lenny Redrose at Heidelberg

A social enterprise has arrived Melbourne Polytechnic’s Heidelberg campus, bringing with it job opportunities and importantly – really good coffee.

The Red-Tops coffee cart pumps out strong lattes, weak caps and hot chocolates from its custom-designed setup, created so a person using a wheelchair can operate all aspects of this micro business.

The cart can raise or lower to accommodate varying heights of baristas and has a recess so a wheelchair can fit. The aim is to provide people in wheelchairs access to employment and further training.

Red-Tops creator Graham Haupt is manning the coffee machine, along with barista Lenny Aki Redrose (@lennyakiredrose), who says ‘the idea of the cart is to get people who are in wheelchairs to come along to try it out, see if they like it, possibly become a barista’.

Lenny says he is comfortable manning the cart as he can adjust it to suit him, and move it into place unassisted. He wants people to see that employment is within reach, that there’s ‘an opportunity for a person in a wheelchair to become a barista’.

‘I’m lucky, I’ve got that go-getter attitude,’ he says.

‘Other people might be depressed, they might be shy, they might not know about what is happening, so the biggest picture here is trying to get somebody in a chair to come and work a few hours and then possibly get a job as a barista.’

Lenny splits his time between the Red-Tops cart, training and playing for St Kilda in the Victorian Wheelchair Football League, and volunteering at the Royal Talbot and Caulfield rehabilitation hospitals as peer support and mentor.

Excellence through adversity 

Lenny had a tumour in his spine in October 2016, then spent four months in rehab at Caulfield. Now he teaches such skills as how to navigate trip hazards, lifting up wheels and going over things, moving backwards, wheeling with one hand, how to transfer, and how to move with a coffee cup in your hand.

He says he’s always been an athlete, a very good soccer player, served in the Australian Army for four years, including overseas, and worked at a restaurant as a barista.

He overcame a drug addiction and now describes sport and fitness as what keeps him clean.

‘Now I’m drug-free, I’m an open book. Sport and fitness has become the major plus in my life, I don’t have any clouds over my head.’

Lenny (very particular favourite coffee ‘almond latte with some honey, but it’s gotta be properly made, gotta be extra hot’) says: ‘We’re really grateful to Melbourne Polytechnic for giving us the opportunity, it shows where they want to be and be a part of, and also they care about being inclusive.’

The vibe is back! 

Melbourne Polytechnic student services manager Karen Cook welcomed the Red-Tops cart to campus, saying ‘word on the street was the coffee was great, the conversation was great and it a nice vibe into our canteen space’.

‘It fits well with our Melbourne Polytechnic strategy on community inclusion and community engagement.

‘It’s also about highlighting employment opportunities for people that may have a disability, and broadening our student experience to being a bit more open to working with people who are different.

‘It provides a service to our students, it links beautifully to our strategy for community engagement and inclusion.’

The Red-Tops coffee cart will be at the Heidelberg campus canteen, Building A, Mondays to Thursdays, 9am to 2.30pm.