Only a couple of years ago, Darcy Maine was standing in front of a packed Sydney Opera House audience introducing his film, which was screening as part of the Vivid Film Festival.

Image of a man facing the camera smiling in front of a busy road.

In fact, in November 2019 things were going very well for the accomplished and award-winning director and producer. The film, TV and advertising production company he’d only recently started had already bagged a big campaign featuring Shane Warne, and he was anticipating a good year ahead.

“Traditionally film production and advertising production is quiet in January and February, so I was waiting for March to kick in – and what kicked in was COVID,” Darcy says.

A “soul-destroying” search for work

When work dried up, the 54-year-old father-of-two started applying for other jobs, but competition was fierce.

“Basically, the whole year I had nothing – I applied for about 100 jobs, and I think I got one phone interview,” Darcy says.

Given his experience, he suspects his age was a factor, noting that it’s an “acknowledged barrier to gaining jobs”.

Naturally, a year of repeated rejection took its toll on his mental health.

“I definitely got quite depressed at one stage – I just didn’t see how I had a future.”

Then he came across the Jobs Victoria online job hub.

“It made applying for positions really easy, because you didn’t have to go through writing big cover letters,” Darcy says of the hub. “You just had to give a summary of your experience, and that made it a lot more accessible – whereas when you’ve applied for 100 jobs and written 100 different cover letters, it gets pretty tiring.”

Starting fresh as a small business ambassador

After applying for a few different jobs, Darcy saw the small business ambassador role come up with the Yarra City Council.

Developed by the Council, this unique program creates opportunities for business owners to speak to ambassadors with a variety of experiences and skills, making them a fantastic source of support.

Darcy thought it sounded like the perfect thing for someone like him – a real “people person”.

“The skillset is not that much different, because your role as a TV or advertising production producer is basically listening to people, understanding their needs, and identifying potential solutions,” he says.

“It’s been a seamless transition for me, even though it’s a completely different world that, if you’d asked me three years ago, I’d never have guessed I’d be involved in.”

Already he’s gotten a lot out of the position, discovering a whole new level of fulfillment in the work.

“To be honest, I’m getting more enjoyment out of this role than I ever did in advertising,” he says. “Because in advertising sometimes you have to put your morals aside, whereas in this role I’m really helping people.

“After not working for a year, having the opportunity to see how Yarra City Council can improve businesses and the community has really transformed my life.”

Contributing to positive change

As a small business ambassador for the Council, Darcy helps build relationships with business owners by finding out what their pain points are and how they can be alleviated.

“I’ve built some really great, meaningful relationships already in five weeks, and I’ve seen change happen from what I’ve surveyed and reported, which is extremely pleasing.”

The program also provides a central point of contact for businesses to get information and referrals to services while giving the Yarra City Council insight into the challenges and needs of the community.

Enjoying a new sense of community

Rather than shy away from discussing the demise of his business, Darcy says sharing his story helps him connect to the small business owners he speaks to in the City of Yarra.

“It really opens doors, because they go: ‘Here’s someone who actually knows what it is to run a small business, and he’s had to close down because of COVID’,” he says. “You can see the light go on in their eyes or hear it in the tone of voice, and suddenly it opens up this whole new conversation,” he says.

This heightened sense of connection and community feeling is one of the positives to have come out of the disaster that was last year, he adds.

“It’s tangible, it’s on the streets – people are interacting more, they’re valuing it more, and I’m very proud of the little role I’m playing in that,” Darcy says.

“I’m so thrilled that Yarra City Council picked me out. It’s really heart-warming, and it’s definitely given me a spring in my step – which I need, because I’m doing a lot of stepping now.”

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