Just under a decade ago, Maree Macgregor’s world was turned upside down in an instant.
She had been attempting to get back into the workforce, after taking an extended period off to raise her children (now young adults). But then her husband was unexpectedly killed in an accident, leaving her shocked and heartbroken.
With the blow of the tragedy and her confidence levels at an all-time low, finding work became even harder.
“Because of my age, I had a lot of trouble getting a job, and I was still mourning my husband, so I was wanting to work but not knowing if I could,” she said.
Then she came across Ginninderry’s SPARK Training and Employment Program, which provides training and employment opportunities to members of the local West Belconnen community who are unemployed.
Having worked in call centres and administration roles in the past, Maree knew she needed to improve her computer skills to be competitive as a job applicant. So in 2017, she enrolled in the SPARK Business Administration Program, and completed a Certificate II in Business.
“I passed that, and it helped me a lot with being able to talk in front of people too, because I’m pretty shy, and I’ve never been able to talk in front of people,” said Maree.
“I was so happy about completing it. But then I tried again to get a job, and I still couldn’t get one because of my age. I kept trying and kept trying but it didn’t happen.”
She kept in touch with the SPARK team, and when she saw the SPARK Horticulture & Conservation Land Management Taster Program which was running in 2018, she figured she’d give it a go.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do if I couldn’t get into business administration. So I thought, ‘I love gardening’, and figured I’d be able to learn a few new things,” she said.
Maree enrolled in the course, and while she enjoyed her new area of study from day one, she found the new program a lot harder than she expected.
“I actually nearly quit three or four times. It was a lot of maths and measuring and I’m not good at that at all, and I was nearly going to give up,” she said.
“Emma [Sckrabei, from SPARK] was wonderful, she just kept talking to me about it, saying, ‘I’m not gonna let you give up’. And the teacher was great too.”
Maree dug deep, and drew on a determination she didn’t even know she had, and ended up completing the course, something she says she’s, “very proud of”. Throughout the course, Maree got to know Michael Nurmi from The Mower Shed, a social enterprise developed by UnitingCare Kippax, and when she completed her training, she was able to land a job. Maree started work with the Mower Shed in 2019 and has been employed there ever since. She even returns to Ginninderry every so often with the team to do landscape maintenance.
“I didn’t know if I would like it or not, but it is the best job ever. I wish I’d known earlier. I love being outside, I love gardening, I love the satisfaction of seeing the finished product and seeing people’s faces,” said Maree.
“I’ve learnt so much and the guys I work with are great. With the young people in the team, I almost feel like I’m their mother, and I love helping the young people out and showing them what they need to do.”
Maree also connected her son Luke to SPARK in 2019. He had dropped out of high school and was looking for a pathway, and ended up completing the Ginninderry Construction Program. He even secured a job at the Mower Shed with his Mum in 2020, and has now gone on to work in security.
“I’m really proud of how far he has come. He’s always had depression and anxiety and he has PTSD, so what he’s done is amazing. And he says he’s proud of me too,” she said.
These days, things are really looking up for Maree. She loves her job and her new career path, and is excited to get out of bed every morning. And she is also keeping busy planning her next big project—her wedding in October this year.
“After my husband passed away, he was my soulmate and I wasn’t interested in anyone else—that was it. And it took about seven years, but I just started talking to this guy, and we got along well. I asked him to marry me on the 29th of February last year, and of course he had to say yes,” laughed Maree.
She said there’s no doubt that the SPARK programs completely changed her life.
“I’m so glad I made the effort to get off my butt and do these SPARK programs. They’ve really helped me big time,” said Maree.
“Anytime I see Emma I give her a cuddle. Because if it wasn’t for her and the SPARK programs, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today.”