SAINT JOHN – It’s been a year since a group of Saint John nonprofits moved in together in a brand new Social Enterprise Hub in the city’s Waterloo Village, and they’re getting ready to celebrate with a huge party for the community next week.
The Social Enterprise Hub was the brainchild of the Saint John Community Loan Fund, an organization that aims to lift people out of poverty through entrepreneurship. The idea was to create a facility where nonprofits can collaborate, share resources and create new initiatives, including social enterprises.
After fundraising and construction, the Hub officially opened in November 2016. The bright, colourful building now houses the Saint John Community Loan Fund, The Human Development Council, ACAP, The Saint John Learning Exchange, Momentum Canada and several social enterprise businesses such as the Impact Market, Voila Cleaning Services and soon, Stone Soup Catering.
To celebrate its first birthday, the Social Enterprise Hub is hosting a birthday bash for the community on Dec.1 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
“We thought it would be a good opportunity to have what’s kind of like our ‘grand opening’, but also our first birthday party. Just have a celebration that people from the neighbourhood can come to, some of our partners and just the general public can come to,” says Erin MacKenny, a job developer at the Saint John Learning Exchange who is helping organize the event.
“Just get more people coming down and seeing what the Social Enterprise Hub is all about and what the organizations here do, but a little bit different than just tours.”
The event will feature a local vendor market and the Port City Impact Film Festival hosted by Hemmings House (also celebrating 10 years that night). There will also be food and drinks, live music, outdoor fire performances and more. There will also be an Aerie Sun, which is basically a giant lightbulb that attaches on top of a building to simulate daylight.
Though the Hub has been open for a year now, MacKenney says many people still don’t know what the organizations do or that the Hub is a space for the community to use as well.
“I think one of the things that we want is to be considered a destination for individuals in this city with the businesses that are in here. But also there are beautiful spaces that people can use, not spaces just our organizations are using,” she says. “I think something else we want people to understand is the work that’s being done by the organizations here.”
Seth Asimakos, the general manager of the Saint John Community Loan Fund, spearheaded the fundraising to build the Social Enterprise Hub. Even though it’s only been a year, he’s noticed a difference in how the group of nonprofits work together, particularly when it comes to collaborating on projects and sharing resources.
“At the start, it’s basically co-location, sharing equipment, purchasing together some materials, doing events together,” he says.
Christina Allain, an economic development officer with the Saint John Community Loan Fund, says one of the big impacts the Social Enterprise Hub has made is on the clients the nonprofits serve, like the people attending classes at the Saint John Learning Exchange.
For a lot of them, they never had a nice space or felt valued, and in here, they feel like they are part of something bigger,” she says. “It’s a nice space and they have access to computers and things like that. I wouldn’t have guessed it would have had so much of an impact on their attitudes.”
Though a year may seem like a long time, Asimakos says the Social Enterprise Hub is only just starting to reach its full potential. The building’s cafe, which will be run by Stone Soup Catering, is expected to be completed by the end of the year and will be open to the public. He also is working and potentially getting solar panels on the Hub’s roof.
“I’m working on that right now. We do have some funds and we’re trying to match those funds. They can only be used by raising a match,” says Asimakos. “There are different groups that are interested, including high schools, with the idea of us getting solar on because it becomes a living lab for people. That’s the way we see it. If we can add some alternative energy it adds to the innovative nature of the Hub.”
Yet, the most important future innovation at the Hub will be what can be accomplished when the people and organizations work together.
“On a human level, the idea of interaction and trying to find out how far we can go as far as working together on projects and proposals and to really scale impact,” says Asimakos. “Because that’s the intent, that we’re here so that we can actually work together better and scale the impact that we’ve had.”