When Jay Marinis bought the iconic Scenic Hotel in late 2020, his vision went well beyond providing people with a place to eat and drink. For him, hospitality venues like Scenic are where community and connection happen.
“Hospitality is the most important thing in our community,” he says leaflet. “It’s the place where we enrich ourselves with other people.”
The idea of pubs and cafés as community builders is not new (US sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “The Third Place” in 1989 to describe public spaces, separate from home and work, where people make connections, exchange ideas and improve well-being) Marinis has found that these spaces are often only open and accessible to certain members of the community. And he wants to change that.
The makeshift psychologist and landlord merges his two worlds into Topsoil – a regenerative gardening therapy project for people with mental illness and psychosocial disabilities – along with business development manager Rose Lacoon Williamson, mental health nurse Laura Miller, garden manager Lilly Stephens and scenic Co-owner Enoch Yates.
They believe healthcare is the work of the village and are in the process of establishing a ‘care community’ in the Adelaide Hills that will include the Topsoil Therapy Garden (opposite the pub) and, eventually, an allied healthcare practice called Demeter (appropriately named after the Greek god of harvest and agriculture).
“We want [the garden] to be a place where people can come and engage in truly meaningful horticultural therapy and experiential learning to combat social isolation and help build the skills they need to thrive in a community,” says Lacoon Williamson .
“It is well documented that horticulture-based therapy programs meet the requisite balance of an individual’s physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs,” says Marinis. He also lists granular benefits such as improved gross and fine motor skills, faster recovery times from acute mental illness, and indirect, non-threatening relationship building. “Horticultural therapy can also relate to professional qualification as well as strengthening food security. Two particularly important issues in marginalized communities.”
The team started one crowdfunding campaign to raise initial capital to get the garden going. The money raised will be used to build the greenhouse (an eco-friendly, sustainable design by Spacecraft Design Build), terracing the land and employing Stephens as garden manager. “Crowdfunding was also important. Because we have such a community focus on this project, we want it to be community funded and owned,” says Lacoon Williamson.
The $46,000 goal will allow the team to grow immediately and have participants on site in the second half of the year.
How will participants participate? “There are multiple entry points: you can be an NDIS participant, you can have a mental health plan … or you can also be a community member who self-refers because you feel like it matters.” , says Marinis. “You will then go through a process of getting through Demeter, our allied healthcare practice, so we can then triage you to see which program suits you best.”
The long-term vision goes beyond the garden. Participants will grow vegetables for the pub and see their labor bearing fruit over a seasonal harvest lunch to encourage a sense of ownership and achievement. “[To see] the intrinsic value of their work,” says Lacoon Williamson. “That ‘I worked hard to create this thing, I laid the ground, the seed from start to finish, and now I’m watching the community enjoy this.’
“And through this process, we really hope that it supports people’s belief that they can be meaningful, valuable members of society where our systems, practices and behaviors as a community have otherwise been fairly marginalized.”
She adds that they also have work paths planned. “We can do meaningful work – and hopefully through a wonderful network of partners that we are developing, we can facilitate post-topsoil work integration.”
Some participants may later work at the Scenic Hotel – in the kitchen, on the floor, or behind the bar.
“Basically the idea is to accept mental health and accept that it’s currently in isolation and reject that and say that we can do that in an integrated way and then we can create a blueprint for other people, to do this in other places,” says Marinis.
“We need to give hospitality and mental health back to the community… and those two things are related. The reason we’re screwed about mental health is because we don’t have places to meet and talk and learn from each other… We don’t know people who exist outside of our own space.
“When we’re not really talking to each other — black, white, Asian, gay, disabled — if we don’t have a point of reference for those people, then we think it’s just us and we don’t think about other people. We have to include everyone in the conversation or we’re a very boring, uninteresting group of people.”