All’s Well in the West End: Excitement builds for community co-operative

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A shared vision: Bill Shields, Catherine Shields, Kirsten Brouse, Agnès Revenu and Myriam Hebabi (left to right) are some of the volunteers behind the West End Well Co-op. Photo by Denise Deby.

A new community-owned café and organic grocery will be part of the streetscape on Wellington St. West next spring. The West End Well Co-op will also offer a coffeehouse-type performance space, cooking, yoga and other classes, and even a library, say the co-operative’s co-founders, a group of residents who decided the time was right to create a place for people interested in environmental sustainability to connect with and support their community.

The centre will operate as a social enterprise, using a business model to achieve social objectives, explained West End Well co-founder Bill Shields at one of the co-op’s information sessions in October. “We wanted it to have its own self-sustaining economic engine; we didn’t want to be relying on grants that came and went.”

As a for-profit co-operative, the Well will be owned by members, with surpluses reinvested in the business.

The co-op’s two-storey building at 969 Wellington St. W. near Somerset St. will be home to an 800-square-foot grocery store featuring local food, a 30-seat café serving breakfast, lunch, and prepared meals, a 60-seat venue for music, poetry and storytelling events, and an outdoor patio. Jacqueline Jolliffe, owner of Stone Soup Foodworks, will run the café.

Co-op membership is open to anyone for a $50 one-time fee, as well as to co-op workers and food producers. Members each have a vote and guide direction and policies, but non-members can still shop there.

The Well is also looking for people to invest in the co-op through preference shares. So far, says Shields, they’ve had pre-commitments for about a third of the funds needed for start-up and initial operations.

The organizers are confident about the Well’s viability. They raised community financing through a holding company that’s covering the purchase and renovation of the building, and charging the co-op a manageable rent until it can buy back the property.

“It took us less than a month to surface most of that money,” says Shields.

He also anticipates an increase in pedestrian traffic over the next few years with the construction of the Bayview Light Rail Transit station and other nearby developments.

Organizers are also connecting with nearby service providers, businesses and residents to ensure the co-op meets the community’s needs.

Currently led by an interim board of directors, the co-op will hold its first annual general meeting early next year, and will open six days a week starting March 2014.

Information sessions will be held November 20 and 26 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Hintonburg Community Centre.

For more information about the West End Well Co-op check out their website at westendwell.ca.

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