If there were a story that defined the spirit of community and collaboration, the Cochrane Centre would be it.
Three years ago, faced with rising costs associated with building maintenance and a dwindling congregation, the Cochrane Street United Church decided to give their building a new lease on life. They met with city officials, arts groups and other community organizations to determine how they could best meet the needs of local residents, and envisioned a plan that would continue their community capacity building. Eventually, the not-for-profit Cochrane Centre was born – a social enterprise in every sense of the word.
“The idea was that they would look towards different sorts of outreach and see how they could better use the facilities to meet the needs of a new, downtown community,” says Catherine French, manager of the Cochrane Centre.
For the past couple of years, the Cochrane Centre has been renovating the church and related buildings to develop an outreach and performance centre that includes performance and rehearsal space, community space and meeting rooms, a commercial kitchen, 10 supportive housing units and five affordable housing units for seniors (whose residents are slated to move in this autumn). It’s a labour of love that will see the whole community benefit.
While the sanctuary has long existed as a performance space and has hosted a range of music artists, it will be updated with new sound, lighting and other features (while remaining a place of worship for the congregation).
“Its always been acknowledged as (having) some of the best acoustics, and has had a relationship with the music school and the symphony and the like,” French says.
The former gymnasium is now the site of a big and bright multi-purpose room that can host everything from community meals and receptions to rehearsals and performances. Adjacent is a boardroom suitable for meeting space or a prep room for performers. The possibilities, says Cochrane Centre associate Jordan Thorne, are endless.
“What I’d love to see is our event room out there also to become like a Second Space (i.e. the LSPU Hall’s Second Space), a multi-purpose room…not just for putting off meetings, but also small performances like acoustic, coffee shop kind of stuff,” he says.
“It’s very much kind of a living, breathing thing. As we start renting out the community centre space, like the event room and the boardroom we have here, depending on what the demand is like for certain groups, it could definitely steer the use of the space into different directions.”
There are several core bookings already in place, including the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra in November and a choral festival next summer. French says the Heritage Foundation of NL, during their October conference, will also be looking at the Cochrane Street Church as a case study on how to repurpose older churches.
“We see this as a sort of growing trend across the province, because people need to repurpose these beautiful buildings…and there’s a lot of opportunity for community development because of these beautiful facilities,” she says.
The key to running a non-profit, French says, is being flexible and adaptable in order to accommodate the needs of the community – something which they’re striving to do.
“You have to make sure that you’re always able and willing to move to where the demand is. And so remaining flexible in each of our spaces here now is central to the success of the place, because it can be whatever it needs to be.”