Chris Doyle has been a volunteer and board member with Harmony Centre in Owen Sound for three years. The Centre is housed in a church that has been a community hub for over 100 years, consisting of the church proper and a Sunday school. Doyle notes that contractors renovating the attic found hay originally used for insulation. A group of ten community volunteers maintains the structure.
The goal of the Centre is to preserve the building, incorporate, and engage the community to share, create, educate, and perform. Individuals from the community wanted to start a soup kitchen which became the anchor tenant. Doyle states that many groups have joined the community: Owen Sound Children’s Choir, Big Brother Big Sisters of Grey-Bruce, Georgian Bay Children’s Choir, Wonderland Singers, Georgian Bay Concert Choir, Grey Bruce Sustainability Network, Writers Group, Deva Tree Yoga, Yoga with Stuart, Nihon Karate, and Rosin Dust.
The Harmony Centre balances social impact with making a profit; they are a registered charity and all proceeds go back into the preservation of the building and programs. The rental fee is offered at a market rate, and businesses can apply for a reduced fee. This benefits their users. Doyle also mentioned the importance of preserving the building, so people within the community can come together in an affordable space where they can interact with other groups, develop projects, and partnerships.
Several UN Sustainable Development Goals align with the Harmony Centre: Goal #3 Good Health and Well-being: Ensure Healthy Lives, and promote well-being, Goal #16 Promote Peaceful and Inclusive Societies for Sustainable Development, Provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels, and Goal #4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Doyle says they have big plans, yet to be revealed. The centre offers rentals that are sustainable for community groups and that provide a secure foundation for the organization’s business model. They have received grant funding for social entrepreneurship from the government to conduct a community study, an assessment to indicate what the community could use and need from the Centre. Members will take this feedback and it will inform their offerings and where they will lead. They received grant funding for an engineering study to show the repairs that are needed and determine opportunities for the future.
Harmony Centre is a charity that embraces social enterprise, with its primary revenue source from commercial operations. As a charity they have access to donation revenue and their credibility is earned differently than that of traditional businesses. Doyle says that it is important to make social enterprise a key part of the Centre’s operations as it allows for flexibility; you can take risks and invest. It is important to preserve older buildings within our communities as they can be used to create positive and engaging experiences for all ages. It is a great way to make lifelong connections and lasting memories for the entire community.