Living the Suburban Dream

"And most importantly we have created a place, and an inclusive community where people that were isolated and working alone can call home. Locally."

Creating a home for enterprise and collaboration in the suburbs: Kathleen Wright on UDB project Sub Urban Co-Working in Johnsonville a year in.

Back in November 2014 five people form the Northern Suburbs of Wellington came together with the idea of creating a place that would provide a “home" for enterprise innovation and collaboration in the suburbs. That place would be open to all who worked locally or served our local area - and would role model how businesses benefit from community and provide great opportunities for those businesses to give back.

We all loved living in the ‘burbs, but wouldn’t it be amazing if the suburbs could also be an inspiring place to work as well? We imagined that our place would be a key piece in the puzzle of creating sustainable "urban villages” for the 21st century. We decided to use a business model (providing co-working, event space and meeting room hire) to fund our mission of being a catalyst for creating vibrant suburban communities. We decided to call it Sub Urban Co-Working and it would operate as a social enterprise.

We approached Wellington City Council and they gave us a small grant, which gave us the confidence in our idea to progress it further.

With this in mind we approached Urban Dream Brokerage, with the hope that they might be able to broker us a space for our project. Although we weren’t their usual type of project they were super keen to support us and we found the most unlikely space - a shop in the Johnsonville Shopping Centre. UDB brokered a deal for us to have the shop for 6 months for free.  Amazing!

So ALL we had to do was redecorate our space, build some meeting rooms and make it look like somewhere where people would want to work! We were sure that local funders would help us out with the cost of the build and the community had all ready been overwhelmingly generous in providing all our furniture, artwork, desks , chairs,  kitchen equipment, lobby furniture, website design, interior design advice etc etc etc

Try as we might we didn’t get any funding for our project.  As a social enterprise we sat in an uncomfortable position of being not-for-profit but using a business model to support our mission. Although we met funding criteria, lack of knowledge by funders of social enterprise and perhaps us being unable to articulate our mission clearly stood against us. 

So we self-funded - the founders gave Sub Urban an interest free loan to do the work and  our space was officially opened in September 2015 by our Deputy Mayor and the Centre Manager of the Johnsonville Shopping Centre. It was an ace party in true suburban style - with everyone bringing a bottle of wine and plate to share!

So a year down the track. Phew. We’ve achieved a lot!  So far we have:

  • had over 60 small business people co-working out of our space, more using our meeting rooms, 
  • run 12 educational business meetups, 
  • five small business workshops
  • created a business network for local people (150 members), 
  • created a network for people seeking to move into business or return to work (100 members), 
  • created a  scholarship which supports the development of a social enterprise created by a local person who suffers from MS
  • supported local Onslow College students by providing mentoring and exposure to “real” business people, 
  • worked with Whitiriea students by judging their student projects and helping with research projects.
  • run four art exhibitions out of our space, as part of Sub Urban Art Space
  • provided “signposting” to over 300 members of the general public who pop in and are interested in business or social enterprise
  • created a structure to manage our organisation - an advisory group, and a business development group
  • established a pilot with Wellington City Council to enable their staff who live in our area or serve our area to become co-workers
  • had interest from other suburbs who would like to create their own local Sub Urban

And most importantly we have created a place, and an inclusive community where people that were isolated and working alone can call home. Locally.

For more information on Sub Urban go here.