What goes into building a commons? Lots.
Moving to Sackville New Brunswick, it became apparent that people wanted a common work space.
And honestly, I felt like I needed one. There aren’t enough bumping spaces & third spaces for the great minds of our community to meet, work & create together. Especially for a community of it’s size, the amount of micro-entrepreneurs, artists, beautiful minds working in isolation is baffling. People working in offices by themselves or only with their own organizations, or working out of their home offices and studios– there isn’t a neutral ground for people to meet other knowledge workers, hackers, tinkerers, people passionate about our community share ideas & build community. The time has come.
With all the facilities, cafes and campus spots around town, none of them are geared towards innovation, inclusivity, entrepreneurship and community engagement… in the meantime, there are people who have lived here for 40 years who have similar hopes & dreams who have never met.
For years, people have seen this as an opportunity for our community. As a recent CFA (Come From Away), I’ll try to share what I know. (Please feel free to send me corrections if I don’t have part of the story straight)
Many folks have tried to build something like a ‘Commons.’ Harold Jarche, for one, started a conversation in 2005 and put a huge amount of work into building an innovative space with AWI. They wrote a robust business plan, focusing on environmental organizations non-profits and entrepreneurs. They nearly secured hefty funding, did a lot of work & community consultation on the initiative –but The Tantramar Commons didn’t quite make it to fruition. That was nearly 10 years ago.
Then the town’s old Fire hall & police station went up for sale. In 2008, STRUTs gallery put in an offer to make it an amazing community space. They even did an illustrious artist’s rendition of what it might look like. That purchase didn’t happen.
When the iconic former United Church was slated to be torn down in 2013, many tried to make it into a viable community space.
You can even read the report on it that was commissioned by Renaissance Sackville. In 2015 the building was torn down.
Then, in 2015, the conversation around the former firehall started again. The building having been decommissioned for a year, a town councillor and his brother released his own sketch of what the firehall could be. CHMA interviewed councillor Shawn Mesheau about it. He urged council to get Renaissance (namely, myself while I was on maternity leave + Harold Jarche) do a rough survey of interested parties to see if it was possible.
Mock ups have been made, business plans made, articles written… was it time?
Given the repairs needed to the building & the cost of operation, it was found after extensive surveys that no not-for-profits or community organizations were willing to buy & repair the building as a community center and/or shared office space.
Then, after years of being on the market, J.N. Lafford bought the space from The Town of Sackville in 2016 with the caveat that he would give 1500 sq ft to non-profits for 25c per square foot.
Having already done the feasibility study, graciously shared by Renaissance Sackville, my visionary friend Rachel Mathis & I approached Heidi & John Lafford asking if they would be interested in us managing or leasing the space as a co-working space and Commons.
They were incredibly receptive, co-operative and excited by the proposition (as were we), and soon after Melody Petlock joined us. Her wonderful organization, Daybreak, had just suffered a catastrophic office fire and she was seeking to rise from the ashes with a bigger, better space than they’d called home before.
So, Melody Petlock, Rachel Mathis & myself are on the wild ride of founding & launching a Sackville Commons.
Today is the day we get keys! We’re aiming to soft launch in September.
THERE IS SO MUCH WORK YET TO BE DONE
to make sure this works, it works well & that it’s what our community wants.
But no matter how it goes, we’re going to keep the conversation going and rallying the troops to create something better for Sackville.
Given my love of The Hub Halifax, Social Enterprise & Sackville…
I think I’m in for a wild and rejuvenating ride.
Scary for all the right reasons.
Check out our new facebook page to watch the story unfold!