Meeting Place MV is a co-working space and cafe on Main Road in McLaren Vale that also provides training for vulnerable members of the community.
So when Meeting Place MV founder, Mark Potter, saw an opportunity to help emergency workers responding to the recent lockdown, he did not let it pass.
“We put it out to our local community to pledge some money to help us create hampers,” Potter says.
“We ended up with over 220 meal hampers that we’re now building and shipping out to COVID testing stations, ambulance workers, SAPOL and SES workers who were active during the lockdown period.”
The hampers idea came from Meeting Place MV resident Stephanie Altus, a former ambulance officer who works as a PTSD counsellor for first responders.
Knowing the pressure for ambulance officers in the lockdown period, the pair collaborated to provide support while also making use of the cafe stock that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Helping those in need is now a lockdown ritual for Meeting Place MV.
During last year’s lockdown, the hub retrofitted itself into a catering business for the NDIS where it provided over 1000 hampers filled with meals, groceries and toilet paper.
“They’d be picked up by the NDIS providers and sent out to people in need, so we really remodelled that concept in this recent lockdown,” Potter said.
Seizing opportunities has been Potter’s focus since opening Meeting Place MV three years ago in the centre of town.
With a history as a small business consultant, and owning and operating four cafes over the years, Potter needed a space to work in his region.
“I was sick of working in cafes and thought it was important to be able to have a proper hot desk environment,” he said.
“As there wasn’t any down here, I decided to build one myself.”
Potter said Meeting Place MV differs from other co-working spaces in that it is based in a fully licensed cafe which creates a workspace with easy access to coffee, food and wine, adding value to a workspace experience.
Meeting Place MV has received a number of awards including McLaren Vale’s Best New Business award in 2019.
Its concept has piqued the interests of people in other regions across South Australia and Victoria with Potter currently creating business plans for six other regional local governments using the Market Place MV model.
Potter describes the space as a cross between a co-working community hub and a vulnerable care training centre with 16 of the 38 resident businesses committed to the care and support of the vulnerable.
“So that could be disability employment services, speech pathologists, counsellors or even social workers,” he says.
“We’ve become a centre of excellence for vulnerable support.”
As well as a space for people to work, Meeting Place MV provides the opportunity for individuals to advance their skills through business start-up courses, as well as barista and hospitality training, with a specialisation in supporting people with disability.
The training has supported more than 300 individuals in the community, from adults to children as young as 10.
“I personally run skill training for vulnerable people where we specialise in spectrum disorder and anxiety disorder through NDIS, but we offer it to anybody,” Potter says.
“We work with a lot of different agencies to give an opportunity to people who wouldn’t otherwise get an opportunity.”
Potter says the established cafe provides the training experience in a real environment which is important for social inclusion and self-esteem building particularly for high needs and vulnerable kids.
Whether hub users are permanent residents in the hub or are reserving hot desks and private meeting rooms by the hour or day, Meeting Place MV provides the opportunity for people to connect and inspire each other.
This is particularly encouraged because the hub restricts residential positions to only one person in a specific field at one time.
“You might come in and you’d be sitting next to a corporate lawyer, a bookkeeper, an accountant, a drag queen, a psychic, or a graphic designer,” Potter says.
“This allows a really strong community of networking and referrals to generate and creates the ability for those different businesses to interact and inspire each other.”
Potter says a collaborative environment is important for businesses looking to grow and, in providing this, Meeting Place MV has seen many individual businesses join forces.
“When businesses are looking for lateral force and invention dynamics, you need to be in a room with other people and mixing up skillsets increases that ability to be inspired and connect,” he says.
“A great example is we had a corporate lawyer, a family lawyer and legal negotiator all working separately; these three businesses have actually joined forces and gone up the street and taken their own office now.”
Potter says this development of community and place and being part of something bigger than your own world is what attracts people to the hub.
“My most commonly faired phrase would be, ‘Oh Dave, have you met Jill?’, and then I step back and allow them to connect.”
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