media release


25 February 2021


National winners revealed for inaugural HESTA Impact Awards


The winners of the first-ever HESTA Impact Awards were last night announced as part of a national celebration of health and community services professionals working to protect the future of our people and planet.


The Youth Projects team (VIC) behind ‘The Living Room’ initiative, which provides people facing homelessness with health services and social support, took out the gong for ‘Team Innovation’.


Housing All Australians (NAT) was crowned ‘Outstanding Organisation’ for their work to transform vacant buildings into short-term affordable housing through their ‘Pop Up Shelters’.


The ‘Individual Distinction’ award was presented jointly to actress Julia Hales (WA) and Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service’s Melissa Browning (QLD) for their contributions to improving diversity and inclusion for people living with Down Syndrome and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, respectively.


HESTA CEO Debby Blakey congratulated the Award winners, who she said have gone above and beyond to have a lasting impact on the world.


“I am humbled by these extraordinary professionals and the work they are doing to make a real difference to health and social outcomes in Australia,” Ms Blakey said.


“Issues such as poor health, climate change and inequality can affect our shared future, particularly as they also pose a financial risk for Australians’ investments for retirement. It’s important we all keep working to address these issues and recognise those who are creating positive change.


“Congratulations to our incredible winners, our worthy finalists and everyone who took the time to nominate them. The HESTA team is so proud to help share their achievements and recognise their life-changing work.”


Launched last year, the Awards were inspired by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global blueprint for making measurable progress to tackle world challenges, including ending hunger, inequality and reducing climate change, by 2030.


HESTA Impact Awards sponsors AIA Australia, Link and CMS Australasia donated the prize money, which the winners will use to continue their work. Each standalone winner took home $10,000, with the joint recipients for the Individual Distinction award sharing the winnings.


For more information about the Awards, visit


Introducing the 2021 HESTA Impact Awards winners:




The Living Room

Youth Projects Ltd

Melbourne VIC


Area of impact: Improved health outcomes/improved patient wellbeing


Youth Projects is recognised for going above and beyond to provide people experiencing disadvantage with access to essential services through ‘The Living Room’ health initiative.


The Living Room is a free primary health service for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness, providing judgement-free access to critical health services and social supports, as well as aid such as hygiene education, access to emergency accommodation, laundry facilities, food and phone charging.


Youth Projects CEO Ben Vasiliou said the win was an opportunity to generate awareness and “bring light” to the significant challenge of managing health concerns and homelessness.


“People experiencing homelessness are often voiceless and forgotten,” Mr Vasiliou said.


“To be able to lifts their spirits by providing access to the most basic of human rights is truly amazing to see each day. The most incredible journeys ultimately end in no longer needing our services.”


When COVID-19 hit, the team pivoted their services to meet the needs of their clients and the wider community. Over the past year, The Living Room provided nearly 28,600 services to people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage, with their nurses and outreach crews covering 74,600 kilometres on foot across Melbourne’s CBD to deliver critical care to those in need.


“Our amazing team of frontline warriors and healthcare heroes really deserve the acknowledgement, particularly in the challenging 12 months that has been,” Mr Vasiliou said.


Mr Vasiliou said the team will use the prize money to support their most high-risk clients, including through the provision of medical supplies, emergency accommodation for women fleeing family violence and transporting vulnerable clients to hospital appointments.




Housing All Australians Ltd



Area of impact: Sector-wide partnerships


Housing All Australians (HAA) is recognised for their innovative ‘Pop Up Shelter’ initiative, which focuses on utilising vacant buildings awaiting redevelopment to increase the supply of short-term affordable housing options.


Partnering with property owners, housing providers, social services, local government and caring private sector organisations, HAA is transforming vacant buildings into temporary accommodation for people experiencing or who are at risk of being homeless.


HAA founder and executive director Robert Pradolin said winning the award was a humbling yet significant opportunity for HAA to share how they are partnering with corporate Australia to address homelessness.


“The provision of shelter is a fundamental human need – not human right – and without it, we have unintended human consequences that, if left unaddressed, will have long term economic implications for Australian society,” Mr Pradolin said.


“Our initial focus is on women over 55 years of age that are facing homelessness, as they are now the fastest growing cohort of homeless people in Australia.”


In partnership with YWCA and the City of Port Philip, the first Pop Up Shelter – The Lake House – launched in Melbourne in 2018. An aged care facility sitting vacant and awaiting redevelopment, HAA through their partnerships facilitated over $300,000 of donated goods and services including kitchen and bathroom fit outs, painting, electrical work and furnishings to transform the building into temporary accommodation. As of the end of December 2020, this previously empty building had housed 78 women who were facing homelessness.


Mr Pradolin said the prize money will go towards a fund that will help HAA meet construction costs.




Julia Claire Hales

My Place WA Ltd. and Black Swan State Theatre Company

Subiaco WA


Area of impact: Diversity and inclusion


Julia Claire Hales is recognised for her leadership in changing perceptions of people with disability, particularly Down Syndrome, through arts and culture.


Ms Hales, whose performance career spans 21 years, said she was grateful and honoured to have won.


“It will help my work, my community and other people with disability,” she said.


“It makes me feel amazing and proud of all the things I’ve achieved in my work and confirms that I need to continue.”


Ms Hales has spent her life educating the community about the potential and possibilities of people with Down Syndrome. Her drive to write and act saw her collaborate with an established playwright and Western Australia’s Black Swan State Theatre Company to create the critically acclaimed work You Know We Belong Together, in which she also performed the lead role.


She has also worked to pave the way for other performing arts practitioners with Down Syndrome and other disabilities. Her six peers in You Know We Belong Together have all gone on to progress their own work, including a short film and a solo exhibition at the 2021 Perth Festival.


“I want people with disability to have the same opportunities I did so they can share their work, to get their voices out there, to be seen,” she said.


In addition to her work in performing arts, Ms Hales has volunteered extensively as a community educator to work with parents of babies with Down Syndrome, as well as a speaker at schools and events to change perceptions. She recently hosted an episode on the ABC program Compass, The Upside of Downs, addressing difficult questions about Down Syndrome with empathy and courage.


Ms Hales is developing a new work, The New Bachelorette, working with actors with and without disability.


Melissa Browning

Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service

Southport QLD


Area of impact: Diversity and inclusion


Melissa Browning is recognised for her leadership in developing and implementing an innovative approach to improve racial and health equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, building understanding and inclusion in Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service (GCHHS).


A proud Bundjalung and Kullilli woman, Ms Browning said it was a “special honour” to be recognised as an Award winner.


“I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to see and share in the transformational journeys of our staff and community members who participate in this ‘heart work’,” she said.


“This program calls for us to sit in our humanity and grow our compassion so that we can create a better world for my mob, for everyone and for our future generations.”


Ms Browning led the contextualisation and delivery of the Courageous Conversations About Race (CCAR) program at GCHHS, partnering with the Courageous Conversation South Pacific Institute.


CCAR is an internationally recognised protocol for achieving racial equity and addressing institutional racism.  At GCHHS, CCAR creates safe and productive spaces for courageous interracial conversations building understanding among staff about how race impacts their lives, their patients’, work and communities and providing tools to support social justice change leading to health improvements for all patients. 


Ms Browning said the prize money will be used to study Indigenous research and support the program’s facilitators to attend the USA Summit for Courageous Conversations, which brings together racial equity leaders from across the globe.


“Our team is committed to racial and health equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and we know that through the transformation we see within our staff and community members that continual delivery, expansion and research of this heart work is crucial, she said.




Media contact:

Sam Riley

General Manager - Media Relations

(03) 8660 1684


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