Sprout Ventures: Reshaping How Community Centres Are Delivered

Large developments on the outskirts of Australian cities are now a familiar sight. While they are advertised with full amenities, generating genuine community is often easier said than done, and it can take over five years or more for a community centre to be built. Sprout Ventures’ innovative business model fills that need with their community-run popup hubs.

Seizing on the momentum from local and state government to oversee better developments, Sprout Ventures launched its first Hub in Alkimos Beach, WA, in 2014. The temporary community hub is a beautifully designed co-working space, café, and events space created to stimulate social connection and engagement.

Sprout Ventures’ early partnership with Lend Lease uncovered some of the significant social issues facing Australia’s newest suburbs. “I learnt a lot about what was going on in ‘greenfield developments’ (outer suburban areas), and identified a massive gap in the early delivery of community facilities,” says Managing Director Lachy Ritchie.

“These places have the worst statistics on all social indicators: domestic violence is higher; social isolation and depression is higher; unemployment; everything.”

The Sprout Hub is designed, built and owned by Sprout Ventures and leased to Lend Lease. Sprout Ventures also curates the space for its users; they assist community and not-for profit groups to use the space and leverage off the resources.

“Our our approach is to let the community do whatever they want from a model that’s more ground-up rather than us dictating what they should do,” says Lachy. “At Alkimos Beach our ‘Seedling Fund’ enables the community to vote every quarter on whatever project or group they want. Alkimos now has a women’s shed who run their own workshops, the local kindergarten recently applied for funding for sustainability education programs, and the junior footy club has also applied for money for gear.”

For such a small community, the interest has been significant. In six months the Alkimos Sprout Hub had over 3,000 visitors, many from the surrounding area wanting to connect and engage with the new community.

“Our most encouraging statistic is that around 50 per cent of activities at Sprout over the last 12 months are completely independent of any external support from us or Lend Lease. While it’s designed to be only temporary, the community has really run with it.”

The successful partnership model has significantly contributed to the success of the Sprout Hub. “Both parties are able to identify and work to their strengths. Lend Lease is a big company and there’s no way they can move or adapt quickly. They know we have the ability to adapt instantly to what the community wants, while they can handle all government approvals.”

Sprout’s model is being refined to adapt to other developments interstate, and with their unique insight into the pitfalls of Australia’s rapid development, the model has the potential to change the way community infrastructure is delivered in greenfield developments across the country.

“Since when did community centres have to be these gigantic institutional buildings? The current model is so broken. Back in the day it was a fireplace, a waterhole or a tree. We’ve suddenly decided it has to be a multi-million dollar institutional building that no-one wants to go in.

“A sign on our wall says: ‘A little place for a little while’. I think Sprout Hubs could completely reshape the way community centres are delivered across the country.”

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