Western’s new downtown space at 450 Talbot St. in London, Ont. will soon become a hub of activity, with community-focused programs and events ranging from Indigenous art exhibits to free legal aid to medical outreach and mental health counselling for children.
Thirteen projects and services will call the three-storey building home, creating and strengthening diverse partnerships between Western and London residents off campus.
“London is home, and we’re thrilled that Western will have a more integrated and visible presence in the downtown core,” said Western President Alan Shepard. “450 Talbot offers exciting opportunities to work side-by-side with our community partners to build an even stronger, healthier and more vibrant city and region.”
Western purchased the space for $7.3 million last October. Currently a law office, the building will undergo major renovations, with an expected re-opening in the second half of 2023.
Planned uses draw in partnerships with a spectrum of groups that work with marginalized Londoners; offer cultural expressions, including art and media studios; and spotlight a host of community-engaged learning opportunities for students.
“I am delighted to see the plans for Western’s downtown hub – it has been well worth the wait,” said John Fyfe-Millar, Ward 13 councillor for the City of London. “These initiatives provide Londoners the opportunity to collaborate with the university in thoughtful and meaningful ways that build on a strong relationship and help Western thrive in our downtown.”
The building anchors most of a city block on the south-east side of Talbot Street and Queen’s Avenue, across from the Ontario Court of Justice and one block west of Richmond Row, with plenty of access to public transit.
Built in 1906-1907, the building originally was home to clothing manufacturer Greene-Swift, before being converted to office space in the 1950s. The building had undergone various renovations since then.
Following its acquisition of the building, Western asked faculties, departments and units for proposals that could best ensure the vision of an interactive space, demonstrating partnerships to benefit Western students, the City of London and all Londoners.
Some build on existing programs housed at Western, while others are entirely new initiatives.
The following are the proposals chosen for 450 Talbot (with the initiating faculty/unit in parentheses):
- Community outreach with partners in medicine and health, with groups including 519 Pursuit, Habitat for Humanity, London Food Bank, Boys & Girls Club, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Safe Space, and Project Hope as part of the Medical Science Outreach (MASCOT) program (Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry)
- A pediatrics hub, SPIKE (Social Pediatrics Innovation, Knowledge, and Engagement) to provide health care to children and youth from marginalized and underserved populations, services addressing adolescent and transgender health, obesity, school readiness, infectious diseases and preventive dental services and referrals (Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry)
- Community legal services relocation, for clients needing legal assistance with family law (parenting time, child and spousal support, child welfare), criminal matters (summary conviction matters and provincial offences), tenants’ rights, small-claims civil disputes, and consumer rights and contract disputes (Faculty of Law)
- Indigenous gallery and program space focused on exhibitions and art programming to amplify Indigenous voices in community life, work, study and research (McIntosh Gallery, Visual Arts)
- New home of the Mary J. Wright Child & Youth Development Clinic, providing student training, clinical services, and greater accessibility in client services for assessment and therapy (Faculty of Education)
- Social and environmental justice gallery and exhibition space to host workshops, speaker presentations and other events, including ones tied to Indigenous communities and under-represented groups (Faculty of Arts & Humanities)
- A community video studio, including a collection of events, practices, and training that together recognize and strengthen the importance of information and media in democratic life (Faculty of Media and Information Studies)
- Western Living Lab (WeLL), a community teaching, training and research space centred on human health and well-being, providing interdisciplinary research, clinical training for students and trainees and a well-being clinic that is highly accessible, safe and inclusive for marginalized community members (Faculty of Health Sciences)
- Community-engaged learning hub where students and partners from nonprofit and community-based London organizations can work collaboratively on projects, and will also be home to an event gallery/space for workshops, where presentations and networking can take place (Schulich/FIMS/Music/Student Experience)
- Alternative-format courses for Western’s local government program (political science), a rigorous professional program with a national reputation and a community orientation, with downtown location giving easy access to city hall and other services (Faculty of Social Science)
- Western Research ‘collaboratorium’ and event space to connect Western’s research, scholarship and creative activity with knowledge users, knowledge consumers and partners; a multipurpose space to accommodate competition events, symposia, and networking events/meetings (Western Research)
- Catering kitchen and event space to support receptions and special events, light lunches and potential for community coffee shop (Hospitality Services)
- General, multi-purpose shared space for central reception, meeting/conference rooms and classrooms
Shepard said the site will be a great example of the kind of increased local community engagement Western is working to achieve with the university’s Towards Western at 150 strategic plan.
“We can provide enhanced, experiential learning for our students while at the same time offering services and creating connections that will benefit both the university and the wider community,” said Shepard. “I see this as a win-win for Western and for London.”