Big plans underway for recently purchased Neechi Commons building
First Nations-led non profit Shawenim Abinooji moving in Monday, but renovations in the works
The new tenants of the Neechi Commons building in Winnipeg are set to take possession on Monday, and plans are already in the works for what the space will look like and how it will serve the community.
On Wednesday, the Southeast Resource Development Council (SERDC) announced that they had purchased the Main Street building from Assiniboine Credit Union, and will be leasing it to Shawenim Abinooji, a First Nations-led not-for-profit.
Shawenim Abinooji works with kids in foster care and their families from eight First Nations in southeast Manitoba.
They currently operate out of four different offices near the Neechi Commons building, which will now serve as a centralized home for them — something executive director Victoria Fisher says will make their services more accessible to those in need.
"We want to provide an environment for our staff that includes collaboration between programs, and that supports a more child and family-centered approach to service delivery," Fisher said.
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The space was previously occupied by the Neechi Commons co-operative, which ran a grocery store, restaurant and gallery space. It closed in 2018 due to mounting debt.
Part of Shawenim Abinooji's work includes supporting young people as they transition out of care by providing housing for them at their Alfred Street complex, which has 24 units.
One of the ways they support children and families that haven't aged out of foster care is by providing alternative classrooms, which are able to accommodate students while they navigate big life changes.
"We want to make sure people who are in care have that support to continue to access their education even if they're moving from one home to another in the middle of the school year," Fisher said.
Wins Bridgman, co-director of Bridgman Collaborative Architecture, said the firm was asked to help re-envision the building for its new use a decade after it created the design for the structure when it went up.
Bridgman said some elements of the redesign will be similar to what the firm did with the original building, like representing what the organization is about on the exterior. When the Neechi Commons building went up, it had signs that included words and phrases like "bannock" and "wild rice."
"So everyone going by the building really knew what the purpose of the building was. It had kind of a fun quality," Bridgman said.
"We're hoping to, with signage … be able to provide that same kind of representation of the building."
There will also be some new elements, like a spiritual centre that people see right as they walk inside. It will be made of wood, have a skylight and be formed "almost in the shape of a teepee from the inside," he said.
"It'll be a place for people to gather and think and be together," he said.
The redesign also came after extensive consultations with staff, Bridgman said.
"We had many interviews with staff to find out what their needs were and to talk and to discover what the organization meant to them and how they can imagine working together," he said.
"It always starts with: what is our collective vision?
"And then bringing [that] together to say, what are the opportunities that the building offers along with the opportunities that the community has? So visioning is a long process and a wonderful process of discovery."
WATCH | First Nations-led non-profit has big plans for Neechi Commons space:
With files from Alana Cole