Coping with growth: Sprout Ventures

Lachy and Bridie Ritchie, of Sprout Ventures,  with St James Anglican School principal Adrian Pree.
Lachy and Bridie Ritchie, of Sprout Ventures, with St James Anglican School principal Adrian Pree.

POP-UP hubs run by communities in large developments on the outskirts of cities can meet the need for community centres, according to Sprout Ventures.

Managing director Lachy Ritchie founded the first Sprout Hub in Alkimos last year through a partnership with developers LandCorp and Lendlease, and uncovered social issues in new suburbs.

“I learnt a lot about what was going on in ‘greenfield developments’ and identified a massive gap in the early delivery of community facilities,” he said.

“Our approach is to let the community do whatever they want from a model that’s more ground-up rather than us dictating what they should do.

“At Alkimos Beach, the ‘Seedling Fund’ enables the community to vote every quarter on whatever project or group they want.

“Alkimos now has a women’s shed who run their own workshops, the local kindergarten recently applied for funding for sustainability education programs, and the junior footy club has applied for money for gear.”

In six months, the hub had more than 3000 visitors, and Mr Ritchie said about half of the activities there in the past year had taken place without support from Sprout or the developer.

“While it’s designed to be only temporary, the community has really run with it,” he said.

Mr Ritchie said the Sprout model was being refined to suit developments interstate and offered an insight into the pitfalls of rapid development.

“The model has the potential to change the way community infrastructure is delivered in greenfield devel- opments across the country,” he said, adding that the current community centre model was “broken”.

“Since when did community centres have to be these gigantic institutional buildings? Back in the day it was a fireplace, a waterhole or a tree.

“We’ve suddenly decided it has to be a multi-million dollar institutional building.

“A sign on our wall says ‘A little place for a little while’. Sprout Hubs could completely reshape the way community centres are delivered across the country.”

A recent UWA report, Resourcing Social Enterprises: Approaches and Challenges, identified challenges faced in striking the right balance between social purpose and commercial viability.

UWA Centre for Social Impact director Professor Paul Flatau said social enterprises played an increasingly important role in the economy and in creating social impact in Australia.

“We have witnessed rapid growth with social entrepreneurs looking to cut through with innovative business solutions to social problems,” Prof Flatau said.

Swinburne University of Technology Centre for Social Impact director Professor Jo Barraket was lead author on the report, released in August.

Prof Barraket said preliminary findings suggested social enterprises in WA were resourceful and typically relied on internal or non-commercial external resources when growing their businesses.

“They report experiencing some challenges in accessing resources due to narrow definitions of social enterprise in use in WA, and limited knowledge of social enterprise amongst financiers and the wider public,” she said.

“Given the social value these organisations generate, it’s imperative that they are enabled to be as resourced, resilient and sustainable as possible.”