More Building Blocks for a Community-based Working Place

Let’s co-create a Working Place in Peterborough — part 2

Curator’s note: A social venture that has endured and grown exponentially, the Working Centre, was established in the spring of 1982 as a response to unemployment and poverty in downtown Kitchener. The Centre models a way of building community by focusing on providing work and learning opportunities through inviting people’s gifts and talents. Plans are underway to provide our community with the opportunity to learn about this model and to explore the possibility of creating our own Working Place* in Peterborough.

In my first blog, I wrote about the Community Tools Projects at the Working Centre in Kitchener which allow people to become involved in building community. These ‘Community Enterprise Projects’ help support the activities of the Centre, combining social enterprise and community service. They seek to make daily living more affordable and have the added benefit of a co-operative and neighbourhood-like structure so that individuals do not have to work in isolation. They invite people away from isolation to become involved in serving others, to use tools productively and to become part of a group that serves a public need.

Through this network, communities benefit from developing facilities where individuals have access to tools in order to support local producing and trading.

The Centre also supports BarterWorks, a local non-profit trade network which provides an infrastructure for organizing, planning and creating exciting barter possibilities. Through this network, communities benefit from developing facilities where individuals have access to tools in order to support local producing and trading.

They have built this gem based on certain guiding principles, including:

  • Dissolving the boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’, those who serve and are served, between those ‘with power’ and the ‘disadvantaged’. They model the practice of ‘walking with others’ through such experiences as (un/under)employment, addiction, family breakdown and involvement with the law. Spend a lunch hour at St. John’s Kitchen and you will discover that it is a challenge to determine who are the paid staff, who are the volunteers, and who are the marginalized.
  • Valuing ‘producerism’ (the ability of people to co-produce things that are practical and useful and for which they formerly paid) over ‘consumerism’.
  • Integrating six virtues: work as gift (more about this in my third blog), living simply, rejecting status, serving others, building community and creating community tools.
  • Contributing to downtown Kitchener’s rejuvenation and providing a model of inclusive, integrated communities through engaging in large-scale revitalizations of several old buildings (and committing to do so without debt), honouring heritage, fulfilling a vision for open public space, encouraging the craft of construction work, and embracing volunteer involvement.
  • Limiting government funding to about 50 per cent, accepting charitable donations and generating over $1million through their collective enterprises.
  • Maintaining a relatively flat pay scale and a decentralized, distributed network of interconnected projects.
    Believing in the importance of everyone, acting intentionally and thoughtfully, building inclusive spaces and practising openness with each other.
  • Supporting grassroots, co-operative, self-directed, skill-based learning. People gain competencies in bike repair, cooking and so on, and at the same time are exposed to social skills such as how to teach, learn and function in a respectful, reciprocal and democratic way.

Founders Stephanie and Joe Mancini are very open about their ‘failures’ as well as their ‘successes’. Hearing or reading their story really helps to shed light on how to build a viable, healthy enterprise. I went to the symposium last summer expecting to walk away with a step-by-step blueprint for a solid, sustainable social enterprise. As our time proceeded, it became obvious that I wouldn’t leave with that certainty, but rather with some guiding principles. Surprising to me at the time, I left feeling even more encouraged with not having a cookie cutter model to emulate.

The Mancinis have created this in an atmosphere of co-operation and mutual appreciation from Kitchener’s downtown business advisory office and the police department.

* Carol Winter, who devoted her life to helping the poor, the homeless and the marginalized in Peterborough, had a vision of a community hub that provided work opportunities. She referred to it as a Working Place.

Part 1: Working Centre an Enduring Social Structure that Builds Community
Watch for part 3: Producerism over Consumerism, Work as Gift, Concluding Thoughts and Your Invitation

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