Building the village at The Local

By Mitch Gaynor

HAVING experienced the despair of isolation and disengagement from re-entering civilian society after a career in the Air Force, Peter Kennedy set about doing everything he could to make a difference.

Not only for himself and his family, but to those who found themselves in the same situation – and there were many thousands of people.

That was no easy road. But that journey has ultimately led him and two fellow Defence veterans, Stephanie and Michael, to Beerwah where they have just opened The Local Café and Bar.

On the outside it’s a straightforward café in the Beerwah Marketplace, which at night becomes a live music venue and place to relax with friends and a drink.

But inside is a business built on a philosophy of connectivity. From sourcing supplies and produce from local businesses to creating a culture and ‘tribe’ for individuals in the community.

“We saw (the old café) for sale and thought why not have a go,” he said.

“But what was really important from the outset was engaging with the community.”

“The idea behind The Local was to bring similar values to what we had at the Defence Force.”

That was about creating a culture and tribe – a village feel for a small town – that veterans enjoyed while in ADF but sorely missed when they left.

The Sunshine Coast has about 50,000 veterans living in the area and Peter said it was a difficult time for some to live a civilian life.

“We wanted to provide a safe place to veterans, where if they wanted to come in and have a chat there would be a like-minded person to chat to,” he said.

“We’ve lost that ability a bit in society to listen to people, and we want to bring that back.”

Peter said the three owners openly talk to staff about issues and have a good understanding of mental health.

“My story is not one of woe, it’s a story of success and recovery and it’s important to break down the stigma,” he said.

“It’s not all doom and gloom. You have good and bad days and recognizing you know what to do.”

The café itself has positioned itself as a catch-all for Beerwah locals.

“It’s not just a café and a bar, it’s about family,” Peter said.

The café sources produce locally and has lent a hand to the unemployed.

“From a jobs perspective we’ve given a heap of those young kids a job,” he said.

“We’ve got a couple of young ones who couldn’t get a job for 18 months because society hasn’t seen them as the best.”

As with The Local’s philosophy, it’s not about the past, it’s about looking forward.