Caringa has withdrawn funding from Louisa's Fine Foods at Bonalbo.
Caringa has withdrawn funding from Louisa's Fine Foods at Bonalbo. Cathy Adams

Business closes, jobs lost

AN AWARD-WINNING business, which has been providing employment and workplace training for people with disabilities, is closing after 50 years.

Louisa's Fine Foods, a business unit of Grafton's Caringa Enterprises which is run from the Louisa Johnston Training Centre in Bonalbo, is set to shut at the end of the month.

Founded in 1968 by the Louisa Johnston Trust, the organisation has evolved to produce a range of popular jams, preserves, sauces and fruit cakes, and was created as employment assistance program for disabled people in the Bonalbo and Clarence Valley areas.

Caringa Enterprises Australian Disability Enterprises manager, Mark Smidt, said the organisation had made the tough decision to withdraw from the centre.

Mr Smidt said Caringa had made substantial financial assistance over and beyond its responsibilities as an NDIS provider since it took over the running of Louisa's Fine Foods in 2011.

"In 2010 the Australian Government suggested we take over the operation of Louisa's Fine Foods when they removed their funding," he said.

"In 2017 the outlet still had significant losses, so Caringa made the concious decision to end the services."

He said the cost of supporting services in Bonalbo was "all out of proportion".

"We can support at least twice the amount of people in Grafton for what it is costing us for the six on the books in Bonalbo," he said.

"But the people still have the support of the Louisa Johnston Trust and the Louisa Johnston Training Centre, we are only withdrawing Louisa's Fine Foods which is the business outlet."

Caringa has been communicating for some time to assist the individuals, as some of whom have been working there for decades, to come to terms with the decision.

Mr Smidt said the individuals will receive an NDIS package which include a dollar component to purchase service from other providers.

"We started transitional arrangements with NDIS over two years ago," he said.

"We have been liaising with individuals and the families for some time to make sure of smooth transition."

He said unfortunately two people will become unemployed.

"These two staff have done a really fine job," he said.

"They have been made redundant after being given an opportunity to work in Grafton, but it's 170km away."

Member for Lismore Thomas George, said he has made contact with the trustees to offer his assistance in securing another service provider.

"The Louisa Johnston Training Centre offers a very important community service," he said.

"I understand they are negotiating with another NDIS organisation and I will continue to work with the trustees to try and secure ongoing services."

Kyogle Chamber of Commerce president Doug Allan said Louisa's Fine Foods won the organisation's awards in 2015 and 2017 for the Community Service category.

"Louisa's have done a great job for many years with pride and passion," he said.

"They have been wonderful for the town of Bonalbo."

Kyogle mayor Cr Danielle Mulholland whose ward includes Bonalbo, said she understood it was a business decision to close to door.