One company is making a huge difference in the community by providing assistance and opportunity to those in need.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to fulfil their potential, no matter their background or level of ability. One company in Wangaratta, Victoria, recognises this, and is working to create real change and opportunity in the local community.

Since 1975, Merriwa has managed both its commercial operations and the provision of services to people with a disability and the vulnerable in the community, providing integrated employment opportunities and community support services for people
with disabilities, families experiencing hardship and vulnerable children.

Merriwa operates a number of professional, accredited businesses, with the largest being its timber and packaging operations. The company trades with more than 140 regular customers each year and generates over $25 million in revenue annually. The company’s commercial operations help to fund the important work of its Community Services Division, which provides more than 100 individual care recipients with access to a wide range of vital services.

Bart Crawley, CEO of Merriwa (pictured right), has been in the timber industry for the last 19 years, working predominately in the softwood sector. He commenced his role as CEO of Merriwa in February 2014.

“Merriwa has had a couple of business and name changes over its journey,” he says.” It was started back in 1975 by a group of people with family members within their care who had a disability and they were looking for something meaningful for them to do. The organisation was known then as North East Handicap Association.

“Over the following 20 year period, through hard work and dedication of volunteers, the organisation grew, culminating in a decision by the committee at the time that things needed to change – it needed to be more commercial in
its approach to business.”

In 1995 the organisation was incorporated, a board of directors was appointed and it adopted the name Merriwa Industries Ltd. Under the guidance of the new board of directors and the adoption of a social enterprise model, Merriwa flourished, experiencing huge growth both in its existing timber business and also in its new packaging business and community services division.

“We currently employ more than 240 people, with a funded supported employee workforce of 83,” Crawley says. “The dream at Merriwa is to be part of a future where people of all abilities reach their potential and they feel respected, happy and confident. One of the ways we do this is via employment, offering jobs in a range of activities necessary to delivery sustainable business models in the timber, packaging and plant nursery sectors.”

Working at Merriwa is a rewarding experience for all its employees, and Crawley has enjoyed watching his employees grow and flourish.

“I think the satisfaction for me is when I see young people enter the workforce at Merriwa, either from the Wangaratta and District Special School or mainstream schools, and watch them develop into independent young adults, becoming solid contributors in the community,” he says.

Merriwa’s non-commercial division is Merriwa Community Services. The support services offered are:

  • Shared supported accommodation;
  • Respite;
  • Supported residential service;
  • Child protection;
  • Crisis care; and
  • Day service.

The core timber products manufactured at Merriwa are laminated timber beams, stair joinery and Australian hardwood flooring.

“Our facilities are well established with large factories, incorporating hardwood drying kilns, moulding, finger jointing, docking and laminating equipment,” Crawley says. “We have supported employment incorporated into all aspects of our timber production operations, machine operation, logistics and office support.

“Our packaging businesses are actually larger than our timber operations. The packaging solutions we offer are co-packing, which consists of taking bulk food products and packing it into small packages, then into shippers, on to pallets and then distributed to our customers distribution centres nationally.”

This process is performed within environmentally controlled food rooms (of which Merriwa has five) and stored in warehouses that can hold in excess of 3000 pallets.

“We also offer re-pack and inspection services,” Crawley says. “Merriwa has long-term business relationships in this division with large multi-nationals – relationships that continue to flourish.”

Merriwa also owns a large nursery and garden centre in Wangaratta called Park Lane Nursery. Park Lane started many years ago as a supported employee enterprise focusing on propagating native plants for groups such as Landcare.

“Park Lane Nursery merged with Merriwa back in 2013 and since then has developed
a successful retail business, selling high-quality plants and garden accessories,” Crawley says. “The business also offers contract garden and maintenance services.”

By becoming a customer of Merriwa, or by supporting a Merriwa customer, you will not only be receiving excellent value for money and certified assured products; you’re also demonstrating your commitment to enabling people of all abilities by providing demand for products that enable real, meaningful work for people who may not otherwise have the opportunity.

“I think there is a growing awareness within society about social challenges,” Crawley says. “Merriwa is an organisation that sets the benchmark when it comes to providing supported employment via a social enterprise model. Either through doing it yourself or engaging Merriwa to supply products and or services, you can really make a difference. The social outcomes are enormous.

“As human beings we all have basic needs – physiological, safety, love and belonging, self-esteem and self-actualisation. Knowing that members of our society are given the opportunity to fulfil those needs, and that we are doing our bit, is a tremendous reward.”

For more information on Merriwa, go to If you would like to offer employment opportunities to disabled or disadvantaged people, speak to your local Employment Service Provider.