My journey with Gribblehirst Hub started with wine.
At the end of an Auckland Council open day in March 2015, at what was to become The Hub, a conversation with some yet-to-be founders over wine veered tangentially towards the use of the building as a community shed and hub.
In the long months between applying and being invited to present to the Local Board, there were many more conversations.
Aware that we hadn’t cast our net very widely when we developed our ideas for the building, we invited local people to talk with us by dropping leaflets about our plans in local letter boxes, starting a Facebook page and doing interviews with local media. It turned out that many local people wanted to talk! Before we had secured the lease, over 340 people had ‘liked’ us on Facebook and posts were regularly reaching hundreds more. Many of those people wanted to know more, as did local residents.
So we shared our application widely, inviting people to share their thoughts and ideas too and being open about changing our focus if it was not what local people also had energy for. Over the nine months between sending the application off and watching Local Board members decide who would get the lease, the six of us involved in the Expression of Interest process met with almost 50 people, usually over coffee.
All of us learned to listen more than talk and it was really a delight to do so because most of people were excited about the possibilities we were talking about and had ideas along similar lines. Some had better ideas! And so we tweaked our focus here and there to reflect what we were hearing and we shared these ideas, tweaks and changes on Facebook. We were gathering in momentum and in confidence; this was more than an idea, together we could actually make this happen!
Conversation was important again at the Local Board decision-making meeting. This time, we didn’t say much at all and, with the Council officer’s recommendation being less than supportive, we were less than optimistic. But listening to the feisty conversation between the Local Board members revealed how important all those conversations with others had been. Information we had gathered together from local people, groups and businesses as well as regional organisations, together with their collective enthusiasm for the community possibilities the building could support, gave the Local Board confidence that this unproven group could undertake such a project. And in December 2015 we were awarded the lease.
The power of conversation was again revealed when, two weeks after we officially gained access to the building, the Hub ran a co-design workshop. 46 people came. The focus of the hub was confirmed and priorities were developed by these people at this workshop and many of the same people have worked together to deliver them too. Out of this group, a core ‘Stewardship group’ has developed and this is the nucleus of our decision-making and leadership. Any paid member can join this group and Hub Trustees (also paid Hub members) are members of this group in a servant leadership way too.
This group worked solidly throughout 2016 on the physical, virtual, operational and governance aspects of getting the building fit for our purpose, weathering the closure of the building for 3 months due to asbestos and not wavering. There have been many conversations, often accompanied by shared dinners and wine as well as over the noise of saws and sanders as, perhaps not surprisingly, we worked on our first collective project – a large table so we can eat together.
Conversations continue with the wider community too. Random Sundays brings the group together to do stuff on the building, or on their own projects and sees new people regularly drop in too. Our stall at the Sandringham Spring Festival was deliberately set up with a couch, chairs, 3D printer and origami to foster conversation as well as making things together. We talked with about 150 people that day. And our Open Day a few weeks later hosted numerous conversations amongst over 350 people who came to find out more about the Hub.
Regularly now, conversations happen in the Hub over sewing, knitting, web development and robotics as well as over engineering, cooking, eating and theatre practice. Members use the space to talk about work, the neighbourhood, events, family, food, recycling, wasted and much more, often with people they didn’t know before they joined the Hub and often leading to actions together.
Conversation has built trust and relationship for us, with our neighbours and within our core group of founding members. We now have some structures and processes around how and where we talk about what so that things get done but still in ways that are inclusive and enabling. These are both face to face and online and enable a sustainable distributed leadership model that actively encourages people with ideas to get involved in making them happen. Perhaps most importantly of all though is that conversation means that neighbours are becoming as important to Hub members as friends and family are. Conversation is an important building block of the Hub, almost as important as the building itself, because it is a key part of us creating community together.