Spotlight Series

Willow Springs Creative Centre

Willow Springs Creative Centre (WSCC) is a social enterprise working to promote growth through creative expression and community development in Lappe, Ontario. WSCC follows an asset-based approach to their programming, meaning Willow Springs Creative Centre takes what skills and talents are already within the individual and the community and strives to recognize and augment them. This not only enhances the quality of life of the individual but of the community as a whole.

Founded in 2002 by Lea Hayes, Kathy Toivonen, Liisa Leskowski and Judi Vinni. The four local artisans were looking to expand their art sales, but they found they were doing a lot of programming and decided to expand on this opportunity. “Within a year we knew it wasn’t going to be a regular artisan gift store. It took us a few years to make it official because it meant letting go of the control of our dreams to a Board of Directors and realizing what our dreams really were.” said Judi Vinni, Co-founder, and Coordinator of Willow Springs Creative Centre.

Having started out as an independent business, they were officially a non-profit by 2006 and offering plenty of art, therapeutic gardening and food programming for the community via a holistic approach. Currently, they run several social purpose enterprises including their successful Soup and Bread Extravaganza, an food service employment training program for adults living with disabilities in which the food made is sold to eager customers. The Trainees seek out the training through Passport funding, personal referral, local employment centres as well as school placements through the Community Integration through Cooperative Education program at Confederation College. Once their training is complete Trainees have the option to stay on with WSCC as employees.

The next venture for WSCC is to take their food service training model and transfer it to an art- based program. They are developing a slab pottery and mosaic studio, which will give Trainees the opportunity to learn to create items that they can sell online or at local markets and craft fairs. The store property also has plenty of gardening space of which WSCC has been able to take advantage. They use their gardens for therapeutic gardening programming and the food grown also supplies their cooking programs. WSCC is also looking forward to a developing partnership with the Lappe Nordic Ski Centre where WSCC and its Trainees will be collaborating on the running of the ski centre’s upcoming new, commercial kitchen.

WSCC does not have any core funding at present and relies nearly completely on fee for service and a few small grants. Judi Vinni’s role as the organization’s Coordinator is filled as a volunteer, but WSCC’s Board of Directors is working hard to establish a sustainable funding source so the position can be a fully paid position in the future.

Finding funding is one of the hurdles many social enterprises face, and Willow Springs Creative Centre is no different. In fact, they face another challenge because their programming reaches across many funders’ categories (culture/health/environment/social work) with their holistic approach. They are closed off from certain funders because the funders will only support one part of the many facets of Willow Springs Creative Centre. Judi Vinni says they could play the word game and change up a few words here and there to make it seem like they only do certain things to appease funders, but they won’t. “We are proud of what we do; we won’t change that.”

To others who are in social purpose work or who wish to start-up, Judi Vinni advises: “If you have funding, don’t rest on it. Look two years ahead, grants end and you need to prepare ahead of time.” She also mentions: “It has to be about social purpose. It has to be at the heart of what you are doing, but you still need to always have a solid business plan to keep it all running.”