The Ville Co-operative of Fredericton hopes to become a different launching point for building social entrepreneurs in the community.
“We are not coming from an academic, university world,” says Jeff MacFarlane, the executive director of The Ville. “We are coming from more of the social community side of things, so the food, renewable energy, physical literacy.”
“Helping to give people that felt like they may not have fit the mould or the model, let’s say of TME [technology management and entrepreneurship at UNB] or Planet Hatch or other incubators, that they feel comfortable here and then that way we can help plug and place them into some of our partners.”
In August 2015, MacFarlane and his team brought the former Alexander Gibson Memorial School in Marysville – a historic neighbourhood on Fredericton’s north side – back to life. It had sat vacant since 2012 when the new Gibson-Neill Memorial School opened nearby.
MacFarlane and his fellow co-operative members turned the old school, which was built in the 1920s, into The Ville, a holistic community centre that empowers the community to change the “have not province” narrative of New Brunswick by helping people become more self-sustainable.
“Teaching a man to fish, you feed them for a life. You give them a fish, you feed them for a day,” MacFarlane said.
The Ville hosts various programs, like urban agriculture, fashion design, dance and coding classes, for all generations from youth to seniors.
One of those programs for younger members of the community is ReConnect Kids, which runs after school, during March break and over the summer. This program aims to get children unplugged, and teaches them entrepreneurship skills.
MacFarlane said it’s important to support youth in gaining entrepreneurial skills because these skills teach them to think critically, which will help them continually adapt to changes in the fast paced world.
“I’m a firm believer that our kids are going to be our changemakers in the future. If we explore their creativity and their passions early, we will help create a healthier community,” said MacFarlane. “We don’t always have to wait until someone graduates from university or high school to get them on a path of creativity.
“The sooner we start kids believing in themselves and empowering them to think outside the box, that’s when real change start to happen.”
Wear Your Label, a Fredericton-based fashion startup, was one of the partners in the ReConnect Kids Summer Camp 2016. The company’s CEO, Kayley Reed said she thinks it’s crucial to educate youth that they have the option of starting their own businesses.
“I think just exposing young people to the options that they have then educating them on how to build a business or how to start a venture, even if they don’t end up doing that, just being able to learn about the different options that they have when they graduate is really important and empowering,” said Reed.
MacFarlane said one of the long-term goals of The Ville is to become a model which similar communities around the world can learn to help them change the narratives and rebuild a lot of vacant beautiful buildings.