In summary

  • An eastern suburbs family has received a backyard makeover thanks to local organisations including the carpentry department at Swinburne Croydon

  • Carpentry students donated a cubby house made as part of their work in Certificate II in Building, and Swinburne educators installed it

  • The Backyard Blitz program was co-founded in 2014 by Swinburne alum Doug Lord, and Swinburne has been involved since 2018.

Move over Jamie Durie. There are new landscape legends in town vying for the Backyard Blitz crown.

Swinburne Croydon’s carpentry department has teamed up with Yellowstone Landscaping, run by Swinburne alum Doug Lord, and O’Brien Electrical and Plumbing Vermont to transform the backyard of a family in need in Melbourne’s east.

The recipient of the mammoth ‘Blitz Team’ effort was Steph Poppins, a 14-year-old with mitochondrial disease, whose backyard is now a sanctuary for the whole family.

A tough road

Mitochondrial disease is a genetic condition that causes nerve damage and progressive deterioration in the organs of sufferers.

For Steph, this has resulted in hearing, vision and mobility issues.  

She endured cataract surgery at eight weeks old, developed scoliosis at age two, started using hearing aids at four, and by eight was confined to a wheelchair.

She now sees 17 specialists to manage her conditions.

In 2017, Steph’s father passed away, leaving her mother Kylie to raise Steph and older brother Robbie on her own.

Doug said in addition to general maintenance, gardening, electrical and plumbing works in the backyard and around the house, the Blitz Team were determined to make the backyard a place Kylie, Rob and Steph could each enjoy.

“The plans for the backyard had to suit the family's needs and ensure it was suitable for them,” he said.

“We wanted Kylie, Steph and Rob to each have their own space out in the garden, and tailored ideas for how each space can suit them all.”

Video credit: Andy Gorrie at CodeSafe Solutions

Giving back

The Backyard Blitz for the Poppins family was the third Swinburne has participated in.

The program has made a stunning comeback in 2022 after an enforced COVID-19 pause.

It’s a fitting partnership for the department, who already donates cubby houses built by students undertaking Certificate II in Building to individuals and organisations across the eastern suburbs, including local kindergartens, foster families, and community members in need.

“It’s such a rewarding way for our students and educators to give back to the community,” Swinburne Senior Educator David de Kort said.

“We’re always looking for ways to strengthen ties with industry and give our students an opportunity for real-world experience, so they also get a lot out of this on a personal and professional level.”

Doug said the Blitz Team was made up by at least 50 energetic volunteers who went above and beyond for the Poppins family.

“We have our regular volunteers who have helped out multiple times, and it was great to see new faces this year, knowing that even more people want to be part of the day,” he said.

“Everyone on site is determined to get the tasks done, asking what they can do next, and are excited for the end result. 

“There is nothing more rewarding seeing the delight at the end of the day when we hand over our day's work to the family.”

Swinburne teacher Ian Tye, Yellowstone Landscaping Director and Swinburne alum Doug Lord, Swinburne Senior Educator David de Kort, and apprentice carpenter and volunteer Thomas Wiltshire on site at the Backyard Blitz for the Poppins family.

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