South Melbourne commons to combine social enterprise with community initiative

SOUTH MELBOURNE COMMONS is Friends of the Earth newest major project, inspired by the CERES Environmental Park and Abbotsford Convent.

The Commons is a unique urban development comprising public space, retail orientated social enterprise and community facilities. It  is housed on the site of the old Galilee School, corner of Montague and Bank Street, South Melbourne.

Friends of the Earth, in partnership with the Father Bob Maguire Foundation, aims to return the property to the community and provide environmental and community services to the area.

The Commons will provide a diverse range of social enterprises, community & environmental services, and recreation aimed at meeting five primary objectives:

  • To establish an urban space for the Port Phillip community to enjoy
  • To establish facilities where people can learn how to live a more sustainable lifestyle and access products and services to help reduce their ecological impact
  • To Improve the health and well being of local disadvantaged people through creative social ventures;
  • To provide meeting spaces, offices and function areas for local community groups to use for their operations, public engagement and fundraising
  • To increase the resources and capacity of local groups providing services to the community.

Social enterprise

The Commons will establish a series of social enterprises that will support and assist local residents while building the community’s capacity. Each enterprise will be run by a separate NGO or charity and will include:

  • a large organic grocery co-operative providing the community with a balanced, healthy diet at the most affordable price
  • a grocery delivery service will undertake the weekly shop and home delivery for those with limited mobility
  • a stylish, low cost organic community cafe that will train youth to work in the hospitality sector and develop programs to feed the disadvantaged
  • a first class performance space for the arts community and groups undertaking fundraising
  • an outdoor meeting space
  • a weekly community markets
  • community gardens and parklands
  • a child minding service and playgrounds.

A serviced office, meeting rooms and a community service website for South Melbourne will complete the community focussed package we offer.

Themed Days

The Commons will provide a range of fun and educationally themed days. This also creates opportunities for charities to generate revenues and increase their capacity.

Theme days include:

  • a fashion and beauty day (second hand clothing, natural beauty, providing information about animal testing and a low footprint approach to fashion)
  • house and garden renovation days (where people can learn about gray water systems, solar power and hot water etc.)
  • a farmers market day (promoting organics)
  • boot sales (promoting re-use).


Commercially based social enterprises like our community cafe and organic food co-op have been established to both deliver the revenues to build a sustainable income base for FoE’s campaigning operation but also demonstrate that businesses, particularly supermarkets, don’t have to operate at the expense of the  community or environment.

Each tenancy has contractual obligations to operate with the lowest possible footprint — committing themselves to using organic produce, minimising food miles, eliminating toxic chemical and waste and operating on 100% renewable energy.

Equally, each enterprise has committed itself to supporting Father Bob’s work with the disadvantaged — preparing meals for the homeless, providing produce packages for low income families etc.

The Timeline

Like any major development, securing planning approvals etc. has caused significant difficulties and delays. In the case of the Commons this has been particularly tricky as there is no definition for social enterprises so we have had to go to great lengths to ensure that activities like a non profit food co-op is considered as a community service rather than another ‘convenience store’.

After many months we have now lodged our planning applications and council has assisted us by allowing us to commence site repairs while we are moving through the community consultation processes.

We expect

the consultation process to be completed in September this year, and open for business sometime in October. Final refurbishments and gardens will be completed by the end of the year.

Spring Opening

All of the major tenancies have now been secured and are gearing up for a spring opening. Community markets and the second stages of the permaculture gardens will be commence in 2011 as will the redevelopment of the rear of our site to refurbish the second half of the school in a community housing complex with some 40-50 apartments for the area’s most disadvantaged people.

More information:[at]

Project Director, Dave West: 0404 093 718 westd[at]
Commons Manager, Meg Ivory:0416 469 144 or email meg.ivory[at]

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