Introducing Kelly Willmott, Creative Director of Green Fox Studios and Beyond Service Awards 'Defence Family Business' Finalist
“Don’t squeal, Kelly, don’t squeal”.
Those were the words Kelly Willmott repeated to herself the day she and her business partner, Amanda, were first approved to run a not-for-profit creative training program inside a high security men’s prison.
It was the first of its kind in Australia.
“That was amazing,” Kelly said.
“I remember Amanda and I walking away just saying to each other, oh my God.”
The program began with an idea in 2018 and grew into Green Fox Studio, a creative agency and social enterprise offering design services alongside digital training for prisoners, detained and at-risk youth, and marginalised and disadvantaged women.
Kelly, the wife of a veteran and mum of two, said the studio came about after leaving her corporate job.
“I was hungry to learn, and I had reached the ceiling of my career as a creative director,” she said.
“I remember sitting there thinking, well, where am I going to go now?”
Serendipitously, Amanda invited Kelly out to a men’s prison to do a presentation.
“I had hired Amanda on a maternity contract, and we got along like a house on fire, ”Kelly said.
“After she finished her contract with me, she had the opportunity out at the prison to teach digital skills.”
Kelly said she did the presentation and was “blown away” by the creativeness of the people she met, and their desire to learn, change and not be forgotten by society.
“Afterwards, we sat down and thought, how can we help these people, firstly, and then how do we use creativity, which we're both trained in, to do that?”
And so, Green Fox Studio was born.
Green Fox Studio uses Adobe software, including InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop, to teach students design fundamentals, along with digital and business skills.
“In the beginning, we thought we were just doing graphic design, but what we realised is it’s teaching digital skills,” Kelly said.
“A lot of people haven't actually sat at a computer (or learnt) those basic digital skills that you need in a lot of professions.”
Kelly said the program opened prisoners’ eyes to the possibility of work in creative industries, and also helped them re-engage with their families.
Prisoners were able to send their loved ones things such as T-shirts and cards they had designed.
“Recently, the men in one of the prisons in Grafton wrote a book for their kids,” Kelly said.
Through another charity, Shine for Kids, the men could record themselves reading books and send the recordings to their children.
However, there were no books about parents who were incarcerated.
“So, they wrote a book,” Kelly said.
“And it was illustrated by one of the ladies who was incarcerated and is now employed with us full time outside.”
Kelly said Green Fox Studio also offered a safe place for migrant women to connect, talk and ask questions about Australian culture, all while learning digital skills.
“It's all very different, but there's so many people in need of help and we're just really fortunate that we've been able to provide that through creativity,” she said.
“It's quite incredible when you can provide opportunity to someone, and having the social enterprise creative agency on the outside means we can also hire (former prisoners).”
But there have been struggles as well.
“When I quit my job to do this, my husband decided he was going to get out of the military,” Kelly said.
“That's when his PTSD kicked in and I had dropped my big salary - Amanda and I started on $200 a week to buy food for our families.
“Not having an income and having a family, that was really scary.”
Then there were the challenges of setting up a creative agency inside a high security prison and building their own LMS (learning management system).
“There's a lot of red tape and because nobody had ever done it before, we had no path to follow,” Kelly said.
“We had to bring a server, we had to learn about IT, we had to learn how to run a business.
“Then there's working out how to work with all of these people who have so many different mental health challenges.”
But it was the students who propelled Kelly and Amanda through those initial rough seas of starting up.
“They were so invested in us, and so appreciative of what we gave them in that space,” Kelly said.
“They worked with us, they were our team.
“There are very intelligent people in correctional facilities.
“Society gives up on all these people, but a lot of them are just there because of poverty or poor circumstances.”
Kelly said she was incredibly appreciative of being named a finalist in the Defence Family Business Award category of the Prince’s Trust Australia Beyond Service Awards.
“To be put on this platform, to be able to share our story about what we've been able to achieve in the last five years and what our plans are, it's amazing,” she said.
This story was written by Courtney Snowden, freelance copywriter and current serving ADF spouse, based in Queensland.
An initiative of the Prince’s Trust Australia Enterprise programme, the Beyond Service Awards are designed to celebrate the entrepreneurial achievements of Australia’s veteran and family business community.
The 2023 Beyond Service Awards are proudly sponsored by Gold Sponsor Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and Silver Sponsor Saab Australia.
For further information, contact Prince’s Trust Australia via email at: email@example.com.
Kelly is the Director and Co-Founder of Green Fox Studio, an award-winning, full-service creative agency and social enterprise operating Australia’s first not-for-profit graphic design training studios inside prisons, detention centers, and in the community.
Kelly’s business has a two-pronged approach. Her studio delivers high-quality creative work to corporate clients, while concurrently assisting marginalised people through training studios, providing intervention, rehabilitation, and economic opportunities to disadvantaged people.
Green Fox Studio offers print and digital design, web development, 3D modelling, animation, writing and editing, marketing, and advertising solutions. Kelly has worked with over 200 inmates, 68 young offenders, and 15 women in the community, while donating more than 6,000training hours.
Kelly and her Co-Founder have worked with the City of Sydney, Swinburne University’s Centre for Social Impact, Queensland University of Technology’s Impact Lab, and presented at Adobe Make It and TEDxBrisbane. They are committed to inspiring clients and other businesses to pursue social procurement opportunities, and work with other social enterprises.
Kelly is a Veteran spouse, based in Brisbane, Queensland.