What happens when you put five non-profits in an open-concept building? It’s not the punch line to a joke, but rather, the concept behind the new social enterprise hub here in Saint John, NB. The building will offer opportunities for collaboration between the non-profit and social enterprises located within the building: the Saint John Community Loan Fund, Human Development Council, the Saint John Learning Exchange, the Pond Deshpande Centre, and ACAP Saint John. In addition to housing these five organizations, there will be many common areas that anybody can use, including a café, a terrace, and a co-working area where people can rent out desk space to work on their ideas.
The social enterprise hub finished its final fundraising push earlier this year, and finally broke ground on November 4, 2015, with construction expected to be completed by the end of July, 2016. I stopped by the Community Loan Fund and talked to Christina Allain, Program Manager, who gave me a tour of the (currently empty) site as well as a virtual tour of the different areas of the building.
The lobby will be a warm and welcoming space, with a common receptionist for all the organizations, allowing them to save on administration costs. The reception desk will be where you go when you first walk in, and the person working there will be able to match you with the services or organizations that are right for you, if you are walking in off the street and don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. It is also where you will be able to have any questions about the building, the neighbourhood, or the organizations within answered.
The Ideas Café (name still not set in stone) will be a public café in part of the street-facing first floor. The café will be a space for people in the neighbourhood to get together for a drink or a snack and talk about some of the work that is being done in the area.
The kitchen will house Stone Soup Catering, a social enterprise started by the Learning Exchange that creates healthy meals and offers employment opportunities to those facing barriers to access to help upgrade their job skills. At current, the company caters to businesses and events, as well as offering a number of school lunches, but once they are in this space, they will be able to operate a community kitchen, serving food at the Ideas Café.
The terrace, located outside the Ideas Café, will offer extra seating for the café, and in good weather, a place to hang out and chat with people, have meetings in the sun, and enjoy the view.
This area, occupying much of the first floor, will be a coworking space for those interested in developing social enterprises. The co-working model means that there will be desks and other office resources available for rent, allowing people with many different ideas to work together and share both resources and thoughts. With a pricing model that is highly customizable, you can rent space for one day a week, or basically turn it into your full-time office space.
There will also be a number of break-out rooms of different sizes, available for use by anyone renting space in the building or by any of the five organizations taking occupancy in the building. These areas can be areas for meetings, or you can pull the chairs and tables away and turn them into event areas. In addition, many of the partitions between rooms are dynamic, allowing you to move them around to create new spaces of different sizes.
A part of the mission of many of the organizations in the building is to educate and empower. For this reason, the Community Loan Fund offers classes in business development and financial literacy, to name just a few. However, the classrooms will mostly be used by the Learning Exchange for their regular programming. This means that the classrooms are a key feature of the building’s plan. Having this space will offer the organizations a place within their own location to host these classes and like the meeting areas, the partitions are dynamic, allowing the rooms to serve different uses when there are no classes in progress.
Finally, the offices in the building will span all three floors, and host the employees of the Loan Fund, the Learning Exchange, Human Development Council, Pond Deshpande, and ACAP. Having all the employees from these organizations under one roof will foster collaboration between the groups and allow for more strategic initiatives to reduce poverty.
I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t wait until next July to see how everything turns out!