Social Innovation Challenge Winner Builds Successful Senior’s Co-op

When Lindsay Luhnau graduated from SFU’s Certificate Program for Community Economic Development* in 2014, she took home $12,000 from the program’s annual Social Innovation Challenge for her plan for a cooperative which would support seniors to stay in their homes as they age.

Lindsay teamed up with Marianne Wilkat, past president of the Ogden House Seniors recreation club, to create the Calgary Aging in Place Seniors Co-operative. The co-op is now incorporated and running successfully with 29 members and a business plan that will allow it to continue to grow.

The Social Innovation Challenge is in line with the strategy of SFU Innovates. SFU Innovates fuels SFU’s vision to be Canada’s leading engaged university and its goals of engaging students, engaging research and engaging communities. SFU Innovates embeds entrepreneurial and innovation across educational, research and community engagement activities and it is a coordinated strategy that Lindsay has used to create the co-op.  

Tell us about the co-operative.

The Calgary Aging in Place Co-operative is designed to help people age gracefully in the comfort of their own homes by providing non-healthcare related services and support. We do that by helping people create passive income through secondary suites, if needed, and connecting them with services such as home maintenance, cleaning, painting, shopping and more.

I describe our solution as geographically focused, community-based care that will help to revive neighborhoods.

Why a seniors co-operative?

I was working with a Calgary City councilor and my job was to identify land for building a seniors housing project in the Ogden neighborhood of Ogden to give local seniors the opportunity to age in the neighborhood where they live.

We were working on procuring a piece of land, but unfortunately, another group in the area blocked the plan. We were brainstorming alternatives and this idea just came out.

What does the co-op offer members?

Our members are both client service recipients and vendors. We wanted to make sure that the people providing and receiving the services both have an interest in the co-op.

As I mentioned, member services include things like home cleaning, repairs, grocery delivery, doctor house calls, and outings and yard maintenance.

There is also a renovation component to both suit and ‘seniorize’ a member’s single-family dwelling. Creating a secondary suite can be an income source, and adding senior-friendly features like a higher toilet, levered door handles, and even swapping out a bathtub for a sit down shower would improve the functionality of homeowner’s living quarters.

One home, one renovation, one member at a time, the co-op’s administrative team coordinates the process, end-to-end. Helping the member secure a loan if needed for the renovation, from a bank or through an investment co-operative. The co-op also takes on the role of property manager in screening tenants, collecting rent payments, and making repairs.

How far along is the business?

We are not at the place I would like to be yet. I have been learning valuable lessons about patience.

We are still in the initial growth phase, focusing on growing our membership base and working with those who want secondary suites. In our next phase, we want more employees, to have our own plumber and cleaner for example. Our long-term goal is that each of our service providers would break off and form their own workers co-operative.

Why a co-operative?

Autonomy is a very important thing for our members, so we decided to go with the co-op model. The members decide everything about the prices and the services. There is total transparency.

The co-operative model expresses how I have always thought business should be done. You can achieve a lot through the cooperative approach, perhaps even more than you can with partnerships or corporations.

Can you say something about how the SFU CED Program helped you?

Without the program this never would have happened. The program gave me the tools, confidence and funds to do this.

Establishing this project has not been an easy process. The peer support from my cohort has been invaluable in encouraging me to continue the work. When you have peers you are accountable to, it makes you follow through.

For more information about the Calgary Aging in Place Seniors Co-operative contact Lindsay by email Lindsay@calgaryaginginplace.ca.

*The Certificate Program for Community Economic Development is a SFU Innovates Program.