Autumn 2021

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FDC Scholarship to Impact Childhood Obesity

One bright young mind will soon be ticking overtime as the recipient of a $150,000 PhD scholarship at Sydney Uni’s Charles Perkins Centre, undertaking research that has the power to change lives.
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When Pablo Picasso was painting Jeune Fille Endormie (a portrait of his lover, Marie-Therese Walter) he would never have imagined that 75 years later, it would end up wrapped in a bin bag, on the desk of the Head of Philanthropy at Sydney University. Put there by a philanthropist from Texas (who turned up unannounced and wished to remain anonymous) the painting was donated on the strict understanding that it would be sold, and the funds directed to medical research. And so it was, that approximately six months later, Professor Stephen Simpson PhD, found himself with the Vice Chancellor at Christie’s Auction House in London, where the aforementioned painting fetched a cool £13.5million (AU$20.5million).

The proceeds went towards creating the Charles Perkins Centre at Sydney University, and Professor Simpson became the inaugural (and current) academic director, alongside four founding ‘Picasso Professors.’

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Bright minds

Fast forward to 2021 and the Charles Perkins Centre at Sydney University has become synonymous with world-leading research, and life-changing insights. “What we set out to do was to address the really difficult, largely intractable challenge of the burden of chronic disease; the global epidemic of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and everything associated with those health conditions,” Professor Simpson explains. “To tackle those problems, it’s not like making a vaccine for an infectious disease agent, it’s much more complicated. It involves the whole of society; the way we feed ourselves, the way we’ve built our living environments, our work environments and transport systems and so forth. It’s a whole of society challenge. And it requires far more than a simple medical solution.”

The Charles Perkins Centre is a hub for some of the brightest minds in Australia. The building houses nearly a thousand people, including philosophers, historians, playwrights, novelists, poets, biomedical scientists, engineers, mathematicians, people working in pediatrics and dietetics, allied health professionals and clinicians. “We have our own hospital clinic and we treat 10,000 to 15,000 patients a year here. We teach 20,000 students a year in this same building,” says Professor Simpson. “We have this extraordinary community of researchers, many of whom are early career researchers, post-docs and PhD students.”

The opportunity of a lifetime

Soon, another bright young mind will be joining the Charles Perkins Centre community, with the introduction of FDC’s Postgraduate Research Scholarship. The $150,000 three-year PhD scholarship, will be awarded to a student facing social or financial disadvantage and help further research into the childhood obesity epidemic.

“It was important that the PhD scholarship be directed to a student with a disadvantage when it comes to being able to undertake tertiary education. There are many incredible researchers with a tremendous ability to change how our future generation can live better. We wanted to ensure they were given an opportunity to excel” Ben Cottle, Managing Director, FDC.

What does childhood obesity have to do with construction? Well, to FDC, everything. When you consider FDC’s position as a family-owned Australian company with an altruistic heart, a scholarship that will positively impact generations to come makes perfect sense.

“There is no more significant time in our lives to get to grips with obesity, than when people are very young in childhood, so it’s an incredibly important project,” says Professor Simpson. “Why an early career researcher, a PhD student? When it comes to actually doing things, you need to get your researchers young. And a PhD is the time when you can take a brilliant young person and put them on to a really significant project.

“You can surround them in an environment where they have access to extraordinary minds across disciplines and give them the opportunity to do something really important. More than that, you can take their discoveries, not only to develop their career, enriching the whole system as they go, but you can also build upon what they’ve discovered through other projects and subsequent work.”

Research and discovery

Research shows that health and mortality risks increase with the number of years someone is living with obesity. A quarter of the nation’s children over 2 years of age (more than 1.2 million) are now overweight or obese, and childhood obesity quadruples the risk of type 2 diabetes. Remote and regional communities are particularly susceptible. “If you’re dealing with multi-ethnic communities in the west of Sydney or whether you’re working with Aboriginal communities in rural and remote areas, there are very specific cultural and behavioral contexts that you need to be aware of, and education is part of that,” explains Professor Simpson.

“These are lessons that have come to us from unexpected realms, including from one of our writers in residence, Emily Maguire, whose book, Love Objects, was recently published. She pointed out that in disadvantaged communities, it’s not lack of understanding about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle that’s the main problem, it’s lack of time, money and opportunity, and the human need to be loved and accepted by family and friends. These together drive the reliance on cheap, convenient, but unhealthy highly processed foods.”

Speaking of highly processed foods (and beverages), if there was one thing Professor Simpson wants you to know, it’s to avoid them. “They hack our appetite control systems. You won’t be able to avoid eating them because they’re designed to be irresistible.” Instead? Place your exquisitely evolved and still functioning appetites in a food environment where they work for your health, not for the processed food industries: whole foods such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, healthy oils, unrefined grains, pulses and moderate amounts of quality meats, if you’re that way inclined. That’s just one thing at the crux of his new book, Eat Like The Animals, in which Professor Simpson and co-author (and Picasso Professor) David Raubenheimer explore what nature can teach us about the science of healthy eating. “Discoveries beget more discoveries and impact,” says Professor Simpson. “Having the opportunity to support a bright young PhD student working in childhood obesity, in a place like the Charles Perkins Centre? It’s things like this generous gift from FDC that will change the world.

More information on FDC’s PhD Scholarship can be found here: https://www.sydney.edu.au/scholarships/c/fdc-phd-scholarship.html


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The athlete inspiring the next generation

GIANTS Netball’s Goalkeeper Sam Poolman chats to FDC about netball, determination and her passion for giving back.  

Watch Sam Poolman on the netball court, and you could be forgiven for being intimidated. At 6-foot-2, she’s a fierce goalkeeper for GIANTS Netball, whose passion for the game is as strong as her defence. But the moment she smiles, you’ll be completely disarmed. Off the court, she’s warm, open and authentic, with a generosity of spirit that’s unmistakable. It’s funny, she says, how your on-court persona can be mistaken for your character. “When you’re in the limelight, people are always going to have an opinion of you. One of the things I often say to young athletes is, “Get to know the person.” Chances are, if you’re competitive on the netball court, you’re probably just really driven – it doesn’t mean you’re not a good or kind person.”

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If Sam seems driven, it’s because she is. She started playing netball at the age of seven (but it was for fun, not about talent, she says). She juggled netball with ballet – which may seem like two opposite ends of the spectrum, but she credits her love of dancing for training her good posture, helping her to stand tall, when towering above her classmates made her feel self-conscious. Netball, too, was a place where she felt she belonged – where being tall was celebrated.

Traversing the pathway

When Sam was 12, she trialed and was accepted into the Newcastle Rec Program, which is when her potential on the court really began to shine. “I wasn’t a naturally talented athlete but I had a really strong work ethic,” she says. “I wanted to be better. I was able to take on feedback and implement it. I was passionate about being in a team environment and the joys of success when working together. That determination and those qualities can take you further than talent alone.”

Once Sam started progressing through the netball pathway, she started setting goals and creating a vision of what she could achieve. She made her first state team when she was 15. With her family home in Newcastle, that meant driving two hours to Sydney and back, five days a week – a task her dedicated parents did without question. “The support my parents have given my career has been absolutely incredible,” Sam says.

Becoming a role model

Fast forward a few years and Sam’s determination has seen her star rise. She spent four years in Adelaide with the Adelaide Thunderbirds where she won a Premiership in her rookie season. (A lot of sporting athletes don’t even get to the grand finals. So, to achieve in my first year as a professional what some players spend 10 years trying to do was pretty awesome, she says). Adelaide was key in providing the sort of opportunities and guidance that made Sam want to give back. When she finally returned to her home state to join GIANTS Netball (as one of the team’s most formidable defenders), she was determined to make a difference to the next generation of female athletes.

“When I came home, I asked who the next up-and-coming netballer was in our area and no one could give me an answer. I had so much knowledge and passion to give and knew I could be a positive role model, but no one could tell me any names they were excited about,” she says. Sam decided to seek them out.

Her business, Aspire Netball, helps young netballers reach their own sporting goals, empowering them physically and mentally. Programs include preparing young athletes for state and regional selection as well as teaching injury prevention, mental resilience, general wellbeing and on-court skills. “We’re in our third year now, have four programs and it just keeps growing. I’m loving the impact that the program is having on these girls. These are our future leaders, in a really crucial time of their lives, so to be able to support them is incredible.”

A challenging year

It says a lot about Sam that she’s so focused on the success of others, when 2020 brought the sort of personal challenges no one could have foreseen. When the pandemic struck and lockdowns kicked in, she suddenly found herself facing uncertainty. “We got called into meeting and it was pretty serious. First, we weren’t training any longer and it moved pretty quickly to conversations about pay, which dropped by 30%. Everything was put on hold. We didn’t know what our season would look like. Would we even have a season?

“We were fortunate that the Queensland Government supported us playing our season in Queensland. We spent nine weeks in a hub there” she says. “I’m feeling a lot more positive now but it was a roller coaster. It challenged everybody’s character. At times like that, you learn a lot about not only yourself, but your life and direction. It teaches you that you have to be able to stand up when pressure is applied to you. And that’s not just in netball, that’s life, too.”

Looking forward

As for Sam’s future – well, if the challenge of a global pandemic taught her anything, it was to live in the present. “About a year and a half ago, the question of what I’d do after netball kept on coming up. People would say, “You know this sport doesn’t last forever. You have to start thinking about what you want to do.” It’s really hard when you’re in a sport and you have to give it your everything, but you’re having to think about setting yourself up for afterwards,” she says.

“At the moment, I’m really enjoying playing. I love the game. I’m improving every year, the passion’s still there and I’m still being challenged. So, I’m not going to change my mindset, I’m going to give all of my energy to sport while I’m in it. I’m very good at driving forward and working very hard to open doors that I don’t even know are there yet. But I’m not so great at realising how far I’ve come and celebrating those elements.”

Ask the next generation of netballers what they think, and chances are they’ll agree: not only has Sam come far, but she’s going far. In her typically generous way, it’s never just about her career or her success, but in celebrating the potential of others. In conceiving Aspire she’s created not only a supportive community for young female athletes that will deliver the GIANTS of the future – but a legacy that will have a positive impact for many years to come.

FDC are proud to be the platinum sponsor of GIANTS Netball for the fourth consecutive year. “Supporting women achieve in their area of specialty has been and will always be key to our culture”. Ben Cottle, Managing Director, FDC.

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Australian childcare gets a shakeup in 2021

The first changes to the childcare curriculum in over 10 years will shine a spotlight on play, movement, technology and the importance of spaces that promote curiosity.
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Walk into Goodstart Early Learning Centre in Underdale, South Australia, and like many childcare centres, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled upon some sort of toddler paradise. High, open spaces give way to child-sized activity nooks, reading retreats and mini tables inviting messy play. There are six spacious learning areas, a nursery sleeping room and playground, where you’ll find outdoor equipment, sensory gardens, mud kitchens, earth pits and dry creek beds leading to two large sandpits. Is it any wonder the children are enthralled? There’s a psychology to building a good childcare centre, that relies on a balance of homeliness and that also promotes curiosity, confidence and education. It has to be a durable but safe environment and importantly, in today’s world, easy to keep COVID-safe.

Goodstart Underdale is just one of the 14 childcare projects delivered by FDC nationally (with a further five new builds and fitouts currently in the works in WA) which does exactly what a good childcare centre should: inspire play. The seemingly simple act of playing enriches the lives of children as they navigate the wonders of the world around them. And now, with the first curriculum changes to childcare in over a decade, the importance of play is having its moment in the spotlight.

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Evolving Education

Using the latest research on children’s brain development, the nation’s education ministers will launch a review of Australia’s “early learning framework” which is set to change the way babies, toddlers and preschoolers are taught in childcare centres. And while the concept of play may seem simple, it has a very specific purpose.

“Really good learning looks like children are playing – but they’re learning about language, cooperation, science and the fundamentals of numeracy,” says Early Childhood Australia Chief Executive Samantha Page. “That will set them up really well for learning to read, and the theory of mathematics.’’

Nature-based play will also take precedence, based on research showing the value of connecting to nature; the weather; the life cycle of butterflies. Other trends set to emerge include the use of technology, given that children today are ‘digital natives’, born into a world where tech is a way of life. Taking a photo of a caterpillar with an iPad, rather than consuming content passively, is just one example.

The importance of activity

Spaces that inspire exercise will be at the forefront, as childcare centres help parents raise healthy, active kids. A new initiative, The Play Active Program, developed by researchers from The University of Western Australia and the Telethon Kids Institute, gives childcare centres clear guidance on how to achieve physical activity guidelines for the early years. The policy will be available first in Perth, then rolled out to WA and the rest of the states.

According to the Australian 24-hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years, young children should have three or more hours of physical activity per day, including energetic play, but lead researcher UWA Associate Professor Hayley Christian said only a third of children aged 2-5 years were achieving that. The program includes a physical activity policy which sets out how much physical activity, sedentary time and screen time children should have when at childcare, and provides managers and educators with training, professional development, and resources to help achieve this.[1]

Pandemic Pressure

There’s no denying that like most sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic created some challenges for the childcare industry. According to the Australian Government’s Families in Australia Survey: Life during COVID-19 Report No 1 Early Findings, new working arrangements for families with children, meant major changes to childcare, with 64% of respondents solely relying on parent-only care, compared to 30% before the pandemic.

But more than a year on from initial lockdown there’s good news. The August 2020 Child care in COVID-19, Services Survey by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, found that attendance at centre-based day care services was back to 100% of pre-COVID levels by the end of July, up from 84% as at mid-May.

Meanwhilelessen the financial strain on working parents, with changes that will cover up to 95 per cent of childcare fees for second and subsequent children aged five and under (for families on lower incomes). It’s a windfall for many, who currently pay up to $120 for childcare per day. For families on higher )the government will abolish the $10,000 cap on childcare fee rebates. The budget announcement means the Morrison Government has matched Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s pre-election policy announcement to cover up to 90 per cent of childcare fees for eligible families with a 95 per cent rebate.

Only time will tell how a looming election and the scars of the pandemic will impact the childcare industry for good. But as for the tiny humans, grasping new life skills, getting to grips with the Play Doh and running around without a care in the world? As long as they’re immersed in their daily play, in centres designed with FDC-level care and expertise, nothing else truly matters.


[1] https://www.uwa.edu.au/news/article/2020/december/childcare-centres-urged-to-adopt-new-policy-to-boost-kids-physical-activity
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