By Jenn Watt
After years of running successful cooking and retail programs around Haliburton County, SIRCH Community Services is expanding, bringing together multiple facets of its operations under one roof and creating a community space.
Renovations are underway at SIRCH Bistro & Marketplace, a 4,000-square-foot space where Shopper’s Drugmart once was at the corner of Maple Avenue and Victoria Street in Haliburton. Once open, the accessible space will feature a commercial kitchen, dining area, marketplace for local artists and entrepreneurs to sell their products, and space for other programming.
The local charity was able to move forward with the plans thanks to a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and will be appealing to the community for additional funds in the months to come.
“What we proposed to do was take over the downstairs [of 49 Maple Ave.] and renovate it into a multi-service centre. So there will be a training centre, which which we now know is going to also have to be ready to do virtual learning, online learning, as well as in person,” said executive director Gena Robertson on Oct. 14. “And then our commercial kitchen has moved, we’ll be doing all our meals out of there, our free meals, and then we wanted a little practice bistro that food service people could practice in.”
SIRCH’s offices are on the second storey of 49 Maple Ave., located down the hall from the social services office and Fleming CREW Employment Centre. Including the training opportunities in the new bistro and marketplace is likely to provide added benefits for job seekers and those looking to upgrade skills.
For several years, SIRCH has been offering training programs for restaurant and retail service called Cook It Up and Ready For Retail, which teach applicable skills to students and real-world practice. In the past, the programs have been offered for a few months a year and have used local restaurants on days when they’re closed. The new space will allow year-round training.
“Who we are trying to work with are people who are unemployed or underemployed or often on social assistance and need some confidence building and need some skill building to be successful in employment,” Robertson said.
Stats on Cook It Up and Ready For Retail demonstrate there is a demand in the local economy for people with food service and retail skills. In the last five years, 51 people have graduated from the two programs combined (80 per cent of those who enrolled graduated), and of those 45 were employed upon graduation.
SIRCH board member Marc Beisheim said the marketplace portion of the space could be of use to a wide range of area residents. “As the marketplace concept evolves and develops it’s going to be an easy point of entry for the public to . [For] nascent entrepreneurs … that will help get curbside visibility much sooner than they might otherwise be able to on their own,” he said. Robertson and her team have a track record of innovation and ground-breaking, he added. “This space really arms her to move faster, quicker, stronger, try stuff, be innovative, see what works, pivot.”
While grant funds were applied for pre-pandemic, SIRCH staff is keenly aware that changes to program delivery may need to be made, which could mean fewer people training in the space at once and using live streaming technology to deliver classes remotely.
Purchasing this new equipment, along with additions to the commercial kitchen, will be part of the organization’s annual fundraising drive, Gifts from the Heart, which launches in November.
Their goal this year is to raise $110,000, $60,000 of which will be for their food programs that include free frozen meals distributed through various programs around the county and the Lunch Is On Us free weekly meals. The remaining $50,000 of the goal is for the capital purchases.
Once SIRCH Bistro & Marketplace is open, the plan is for members of the public to come by to purchase breakfast or lunch, or peruse the items for sale, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We want it to be really friendly and inviting and informal,” Robertson said. “And we’ll have Wi-Fi and if people want to come here and hang out for a bit, they can, depending on how long the lineup is.” She is hopeful seniors who live in nearby Parklane Apartments will also frequent the bistro.
Details on fundraising for SIRCH Bistro & Marketplace as well as its opening date will be featured in upcoming editions of the Haliburton Echo.