Convent Conversion An Enterprising Success
6 February 2013 at 9:37 am
The Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne’s Inner North East no longer houses a religious order of prayerful nuns but now plays host to a successful social enterprise. This spotlight on social enterprise is part of a regular series for Corporate Community Impact.
The Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne’s Inner North East no longer houses a religious order of prayerful nuns. Rather, today it is described as a model of a successful social enterprise that is a ‘community resource and incubator for creativity’.
Just four kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD, its 11 historic buildings, gardens and car park are spread over 6.8 hectares in a sweeping bend in the Yarra River and are surrounded by the Collingwood Children’s Farm and Yarra Bend Park.
The Abbotsford Convent Coalition (ACC) was a community group that, from late 1997 to 2005, fought to create an arts, education and tourism precinct on the unique heritage site.
The group successfully fought off and reversed an initial developers proposal to turn the site into 289 housing units within the historic buildings and gardens.
Today it is a location for diverse activities and uses rather than the high-density residential complex.
The ACC not only coordinated the efforts of thousands of people who objected to the proposed development, but also initiated, developed and realised an alternative vision – the Abbotsford Convent Project for Arts, Education and Tourism (ACP).
It led a complex and protracted planning process, and raised $4 million in pledges from benefactors as well as $4 million from the Victorian state government.
The CEO of the Abbotsford Convent Foundation Maggie Maguire said that the social enterprise was all about “community use”.
“It’s a place of respite, learning, events, picnics. It’s a place to come and meet people, look at working galleries,” Maguire said.
“It’s a serene environment close to the CBD.”
The convent generally receives 13 000 visits a year, plus more for special occasions and events.
One of the reasons for the venues success, Maguire says, is the ACC’s ability to secure the support of political leaders and their ability to argue their case with local government into establishing a facility that could service the community in the inner Melbourne area.
“One of the reasons for success is workers had a clear vision and a high level of passion. They were dogmatic in securing that dream,” she says.
“They had a high level of commitment and passion to principal.
“We’ve not shifted that vision.”
There is currently 120 leases at the Convent, averaging around 400 people working their each day in a range of different positions.
The Foundation is currently in the process of putting together a report to chart their social impact, but according to Maguire the greatest success is the time spent engaging with the community.
“People feel a sense of ownership and pride,” she says.
Click here for more information about the Abbotsford Convent Social Enterprise.