SIX decades of servicing the Singleton community, within the disability sector, were celebrated at a glittering function at the Singleton Showground Pavilion on Saturday night.
The Witmore Diamond Dance 60th Anniversary welcomed more than 120 people – comprising local leaders, supporters, businessmen and women, staff and, most importantly, clients – to acknowledge the vital work and history of the not-for-profit organisation.
Witmore Enterprises Inc, which has been operating in the district since 1958, provides training, support, vocational education and job opportunities to residents with a disability.
Its day programs department offers a variety of components such as community participation, transition to work, life choices, active ageing and respite assistance.
And, the workshop delivers supported employment and training for clients, including the manufacturing of products and services for mines, council, commercial and industrial customers.
“[60 years] is a massive achievement – and we’re extremely proud of that milestone,” CEO Anita White said.
“We owe a lot to Sonja and Klaus Witt and Ray and Melva Moore who were instrumental in the formation of the organisation, along with the help of the Singleton Lions Club, who donated the [early] land in Church Street.
“Back in the ’50s, people [with a disability] weren’t allowed to go to school.
“But, the Moores had a daughter, Judith, with a disability.
“They wanted to educate her, so they approached the Witts who’d started a small pre-school in town.
“The four [of them] then set-up the Singleton Sub-Normal Children’s School on October 6, with seven students and one teacher.
“Now, Witmore Enterprises Inc has about 45 clients in our programming section, 28 employees in the workshop and a staff of 29.
“It’s certainly a big operation these days.”
[60 years] is a massive achievement – and we’re extremely proud of that milestone.CEO Anita White
Relatives of the Witts and Moores – Kaaren Witt, Khan Porter-Witt and Garry Moore – admitted it was a special moment for all of them.
“I’m extremely proud of what mum and dad did,” Mr Moore said.
“It’s an amazing legacy they’ve left in town.”
However, the organisation is not resting on its laurels either, according to Ms White.
“We’re about to offer a respite service in Singleton,” she said.
“We’ll, hopefully, sign off on that [contract] next week.
“It’s a very exciting time for Witmore.”
Saturday night’s gala event also featured well-known country performer Troy Kemp, who entertained the crowd.
“There was a little local link there,” Ms White admitted.
“Troy’s uncle is a supervisor in our workshop.
“And, we were lucky he was available on the night.”
Witmore history – From humble beginnings (1958)
THE formation of the Singleton Sheltered Workshop Association was reported in The Singleton Argus on March 9, 1973, with its president as Tom Bates and secretary Roger Carmichael. The newly-formed association intended to commence a workshop at 23a Bishopgate Street, the former joinery workshop of Mr Clarence Fellowes.
It is interesting to note that the two men mentioned above were members of the Singleton Lions Club, an organisation that in 1958 had taken a vital interest in the formation of Witmore Special School, operating in a specially-designed facility in Church Street.
The former organisation was a natural follow-on of the latter, and is really the progression of other activities that had begun some years earlier by the efforts of Mrs Sonja Witt and her husband Klaus, both of whom had emigrated from Germany after the end of World War II.
It all started when the Witts felt their young pre-school children needed company and Mrs Witt commenced a small pre-school, as we would understand it now, in the annexe of All Saints’ Parish Hall.
A little while later Mr Ray and Mrs Melva Moore made an approach to Sonja Witt to see if their daughter, who had a disability, could attend and join with the other children.
This was done and worked out very well for all concerned, but when she got older, the authorities became aware of it, they required the young lady to be withdrawn.
As time went on the children became older and it was then the Lions members could see the need for a sheltered workshop so, in typical fashion, they set about seeing what could be done.
As mentioned above an association was formed in March 1973 with two of the Lions Club members holding the executive positions and the workshop opened towards the end of that month.
The Witmore Special School ceased operation on December 15, 1983, when students were mainstreamed into the Department of Education.
The Singleton Sheltered Workshop was incorporated on September 13, 1995.
The name was changed to Witmore Enterprises Incorporated on March 18, 1996, in recognition of the contribution of the Witt and Moore families.
In 2008, Witmore Enterprises had reached a cross road. The underlying necessity to provide ongoing support to an increasing number of clients with adequate infrastructure provided unique challenges.
Many of the items outlined in the 2008 business plan required the board to set the scene for potentially a very different Witmore in the manner in which the “business” element of the workshop operation was to be conducted.
There was the opportunity to build on Witmore Enterprises’ successes by creating an enhanced physical environment, in conjunction with proactive management and community involvement, to further integrate persons with disabilities into the local community.
With this in mind and after much investigation, it was decided to purchase a suitable premise at 45 Magpie Street, Singleton. This site was owned by Australian Technical College and was a purpose-built workshop and training facility.
The purchase was completed on February 25, 2009, and in 2010 operations from Bishopgate Street (workshop) and Castlereagh Street (Day Program) were transferred to Magpie Street, with the official opening being held on May 19, 2010, with the Hon. Joel Fitzgibbon MP officiating.
The Castlereagh Street property was sold to assist with the purchase of Magpie Street, while the lease on the old workshop premises in Bishopgate Street was allowed to lapse.
Since the purchase of Magpie Street, a number of site capital improvement projects have been undertaken:
* A new lunchroom was built for workshop staff and supported employees in 2012
* An area was constructed at the rear of the workshop, including an awning and paths for wet weather use
* The old lunchroom was converted to a kitchen training area for Day Choices in 2013
* Workshop site office was relocated from inside workshop to external position in 2014, enabling the more efficient use of workshop space
* A memorial/sensory garden project, incorporating a pedestrian access/entrance and gazebo, was carried out in early 2015
* Solar power was installed on premises in 2016
As an acknowledgement of the dedication of Klaus and Sonja Witt and Ray and Melva Moore, these four people were inducted as patrons of Witmore Enterprises Inc.