Timing is everything

July 20, 2021

Young Wellington woman Katrina Sneath has found work at a unique hotel in the New South Wales Blue Mountains.

Timing is everying. Katrina, 25, had completed two years at the University of Sydney’s uni 2 beyond programme just in time to join the first intake of trainees in Australia’s first social enterprise hotel.

Hotel Etico is a guest hotel in the historic Mount Victoria Manor that runs a work, training and live-in programme for people with intellectual disabilities.

Katrina doesn’t believe that having Down syndrome means she can’t do what her siblings do, and decided she wanted to study overseas. The University of Sydney’s uni 2 beyond programme at the Centre for Disability Studies was the right fit.

uni 2 beyond supports people with intellectual disabilities to study courses for interest – called auditing – and take part in university life without enrolling in degree courses. Katrina studied a wide range of courses, from nutrition to creative writing, global challenges and Greek and Roman studies.

“It was an amazing experience,” she says. “Not many people with intellectual disabilities have a chance to audit university subjects and to see what the student life is about. It made me more open to opportunities, especially the advocacy subjects, and also the new things l learned. They gave me new ideas for creating future opportunities and life-tasting.”

And Jan McConnachie, Katrina’s mother, says her daughter is tasting all that Sydney offers. “She whizzes around Sydney using Citymapper.” Citymapper is Sydney’s transport app. “She has got an enormous amount of confidence in managing public transport on her own in a city this big with a lot of alternative options.”

Before Sydney’s COVID-19 lockdown Katrina found a part-time job in a lawyer’s office, but that ended with the pandemic. She has also worked for Side by Side Advocacy as a co-researcher on an inclusion project and she goes to gigs with Gig Buddies Sydney.

In November last year, just as Katrina was completing her studies at uni 2 beyond, Hotel Etico opened and Katrina was accepted for the first intake of trainees. She takes the train from Sydney to the Blue Mountains each week, working three days and staying over in a staff apartment for two nights.

“The people are really amazing to work with. They are like family,” Katrina says. “They have inspired me to look at the opportunities to work at different hotels too. We can work and learn there for one year.”

The inspiration for Hotel Etico came from northern Italy and Niccolo Vallese, a young man with Down syndrome who made a success of working in a local restaurant. The hotels now operate world-wide.

Jan accompanied Katrina to Sydney when she started uni and has worked hard to set Katrina up to live as independently as possible. “She’s quite determined she’s not going to come back to New Zealand,” Jan says. “She loves the new experiences, excitement and opportunities of the big city with lots going on.”

Caption: Katrina Sneath spent two years at uni 2 beyond at the University of Sydney.