A progressive greenhouse: Under One Roof allows Ottawa NGOs to grow together

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Diane Touchette

The Under One Roof project, which is currently developing a 30,000 square-foot multi-purpose building in downtown Ottawa to provide workspaces for NGOs and private businesses dedicated to progressive social change, is being overseen by Diane Touchette, director of operations at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. She described the project in an interview with rabble.ca.

Cathryn Atkinson: Tell me about the vision and purpose for Under One Roof Properties. Why is it necessary?

Diane Touchette: Social and ecological realities today demand that we act urgently, but think strategically. This is why we are creating a space to bring together diverse activist organizations to share, grow and thrive together. We want to foster an environment of interaction, collaboration and movement -- under one roof. We're not just sharing space. We're sharing ways to boost our leadership capacity.

We're forging creative partnerships. We're designing the learning opportunities we need. We're strengthening our organizations -- and our confidence. Under One Roof aims to provide this catalyst to mobilize, inspire and nurture the diverse relationships and ideas that will increase our capacity to carry out our missions and to change the

CA: Can you describe the facilities?

DT: This will be the only building of its kind in Ottawa. It's located right in the downtown core (251 Bank Street) near all of the amenities this offers.

The first floor we are opening is the main floor. It is the most important aspect of the building: This is where tenants will come to greet guests, this is where meetings will take place, this is where staff will gather and share information with each other, this is where joint‐projects can be created and where activists will come together. We have refurbished 100 per cent of the space. We're looking at exposed ceilings, hardwood floors, bright colours, brand new furniture. We are even doing a media studio so that tenants can record their own podcasts and download directly on to their website.

It will be an incredibly upbeat and creative work environment.

CA: What are the services offered?

DT: Shared reception and shipping/receiving area; shared volunteer centre; mailing and printing facilities; shared kitchen and lounge; shared free Internet access, free phones and long distance charges, shared meeting rooms, reception facilities; yoga room, showers; shared landlord, repair and housekeeping.

CA: I know the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto was an inspiration. How have you adapted their efforts for Ottawa? How does it differ?

DT: The CSI deserves all the credit for inspiring us to repeat the model in Ottawa. Our deepest thanks go to the CSI folks, especially Tonya Surman and Eli Malinsky as good friends and allies, for giving us the inspiration and all the materials needed to create this Ottawa building. With their permission, we have used and copied their applicable research, templates and documentation, tailored to meet the needs of the Ottawa model we plan to create. UnderOneRoof would also like to recognize the support of the CCPA's board and staff in crafting this important initiative.

CA: Are there many places like this in Canada?

DT: I'm sure there are. So far, we have used only the CSI model in Toronto.

CA: How far along are the plans? There appears to be a "rolling out" of the building's services, is that correct?

DT: We are in demolition process now. Refurbishing begins next week. The first tenants are moving in January 2012. It's coming up quickly and we are on schedule.

CA: Who is involved? Are there still spots available?

DT: Yes, there are still spots available for January. Some of the tenants are rabble.ca, of course, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada Against Poverty, Volunteer Canada, Octopus Bookstore, Community Forward Fund, the Broadbent Institute, to name a few.

CA: Ottawa, being the capital, is an important place for NGOs to be located. How do those involved with Under One Roof benefit from being based there?

DT: For activists and lobbyists, they are within walking distance to Parliament. For others, they just want to be downtown, close to good restaurants, parks, shops and let's face it, that's where the action is.

CA: Apart from the opening in January, are there any other plans?

DT: We are taking over one floor at a time. In January the first floor opens, in July another floor opens, then possibly another floor six months later. As long as there is need, we will refurbish one floor at a time and have NGOs move in.

CA: Is there anything else you would like to mention?

DT: UnderOneRoof would also like to recognize the support of the CCPA's Board and Staff in crafting this important initiative.

Diane Touchette is the director of operations at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and leading the social innovation initiative and creation of Under One Roof. She is also on the board of the Centre d'action bénévole de Gatineau and the Canadian Research Institute on the Advancement of Women in Ottawa, as well as serving as treasurer on the board of rabble.ca.

Cathryn Atkinson is the news and features editor of rabble.ca.

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