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Norfolk’s Newest Foundation Begins Work on ‘Norfolk Hub’

Pedestrian access, arts events and coordination between nonprofits are group’s focus

 

By Wiley Wood

For a new kid on the block, the Norfolk Foundation (NF) has an outsized presence in town. Incorporated as a nonprofit in fall 2015, it now owns two key pieces of commercial real estate in the village center: 6 Station Place, the Berkshire Country Store building, and 2 Station Place, soon to be renamed the Norfolk Hub.

Times were bleak in Norfolk when NF’s original members gathered to discuss the future. The Norfolk Corner had been shuttered for a year, and Aija, which sold jewelry, accessories and gifts from the west half of the old hardware building, had announced its imminent closing. The downtown area clearly needed help.

While they agreed in their overarching purpose, the three founding members each had a separate focus. Samuel (Pete) Anderson, an architect and NF’s current president, sees the dislocation of Norfolk’s center as a problem. Long an advocate for a park in the City Meadow below Station Place that would knit together the neighborhoods around the low-lying no-man’s-land in the center of town, he also wants to improve pedestrian access between the village green, Town Hall and the downtown commercial area, eventually linking these with Norfolk’s network of trails and natural attractions beyond the village core.

Stephen Melville, the organization’s secretary, particularly wants to develop Norfolk’s potential as a center for literature and the arts. He expects the foundation to support the Yale Summer School of Art as it upgrades its dilapidated studio building, and he hopes to encourage a book festival in Norfolk, modeled on the famous festival at Hay-on-Wye in England.

“The festival events for the most part involve two people, two writers who have some reason to speak to each other in public,” says Melville, “they last about 45 minutes and are followed by a book signing.”

The organization’s third founding member is Elizabeth Borden, who also chairs the town’s Economic Development Committee (EDC). Having a cluster of viable retail businesses in the village center has long been a goal of the EDC and is a high priority of the Norfolk Foundation, which played an important role in getting the Berkshire Country Market started.

The need for town residents to take a supportive role with small businesses is critical, according to Jocelyn Ayer, Economic Development Director of the Northwest Hills Council of Governments, given the small size of area towns, their limited foot traffic and slow winters. “And with the State’s fiscal condition, we certainly cannot rely on State funding to address our needs,” says Ayer.

2 Station Place image 3_Exterior

2 Station Place image 4_Exterior

Borden has also worked at the EDC to foster better coordination between the town’s nonprofits. The foundation’s plans for the Norfolk Hub at 2 Station Place address that concern directly. The building will continue to house the small retail space where Vickie Thompson runs the Norfolk Hair Station. The remaining footprint, other than a corner office for the Norfolk Foundation, will be available to Norfolk’s nonprofits as a collaborative workspace. There will be a large meeting area with tables, chairs and walls that can be moved at will; a conference room, reservable for closed meetings; lockers for secure storage; two individual workspaces; and a 21st-century phone booth, with no phone but with a sound-blocking door for privacy. The plans are at www.norfolkfoundation.net.

“Other than the physical space,” says Dawn Whalen, NF’s fulltime executive director, “the Hub will offer professional support to its members, partnering with organizations to help them find money, for instance, outside the Norfolk circle.”

NF plans to use the Norfolk Hub to host seminars on nonprofit governance, grant writing and outreach. It will also use its wall space to display the projects of its members—the latest maps of the Rails to Trails Committee, for instance.

Whalen says that the Norfolk Foundation has been financed so far by funding commitments from a dozen or so Norfolk residents but that a broader fundraising effort in the community is also underway.

“We hope that the Norfolk Hub will be a gathering place for nonprofits and a center for thinking about Norfolk,” says Stephen Melville. “And we hope it will be up and running some time in August.”

On April 24, the Norfolk Foundation announced its award of $39,000 in grants to seven Norfolk organizations:
—Battell Arts Foundation, for summer art activities for children
—Church of Christ Congregational, for ongoing renovation to its stained glass windows
—Norfolk Community Association, for the beautification of Station Place and Robertson Plaza
—Norfolk Historical Society, to digitize parts of its photographic archive
—Norfolk Land Trust, to develop an accessible trail off Route 44 near the Botelle School
—Rails to Trails Committee for the planning and permitting of its North Brook Trail project
—Weekend in Norfolk Committee, to promote and advertise its second annual three-day festival of art and music.

Drawings by Katherine Johnson, Responsive Designs.

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