Free to Feed

Architecture Retail Northcote , Australia

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Free to Feed is a not-for-profit social enterprise which advocates for refugees and new migrant through food-oriented initiatives. The organisation offers cooking classes, catering, and workshops which are hosted by their many cooks to share their culinary skills, traditions and stories in new communities. Free to Feed also provides entrepreneurial support and professional skills development through their food business incubator Now to Launch.

As of early 2018, Free to Feed outgrew their premises and required a new home to accommodate their variety of events and immersive cooking experiences. The new tenancy was a shopfront on High Street Northcote, formerly an old tobacco store. A new space was conceived to host feasts, workshops, cooking classes, and community events.

Since completion, the space has been used in many incarnations (including a bake sale!) to accommodate Free to Feed's initiatives in supporting refugees and new migrants, using food to bring communities together.

Questions and Answers

What was the brief?

The brief was to create a community space which was as flexible as possible. The space needed to be used in multiple ways from sit down dinners, casual lunches, displaying and selling spices, presentations, workshops, gatherings, cooking classes and more. It had to be able to be packed away when required, and there needed to be enough flexibility for the space to evolve as Free to Feed grows. In addition to the main space, the kitchen and bathrooms at the rear of the premise were also renovated.

What were the key challenges?

The project had a very limited budget; it was therefore important that we made the most of the existing conditions and avoided drastic changes unless absolutely necessary and focus on what was important, which was the shopfront space. Luckily, underneath the laminated floor of the original tobacco shop was a fabulous terrazzo flooring which was still in good condition.
Time was also crucial - the project needed to be completed to be ready for the first cooking experience and dinner booked in the space. The builder programmed the work well and worked collaboratively with us and the client to propel the project forward.
The valuable lesson on this project was - do little, but do it well. You can achieve a lot with a small budget that way.

What are some of the design solutions?

Colour became key to creating the mood. The palette was drawn from an image of a spice market with earthy tones and the aim was to create a warm and playful space for collaboration around food. To help distinguish zones in the space, blocks of colour were used in different areas. The project received a generous donation from Anchor Ceramics who provided ten terracotta pendant fittings. We also collaborated with the artist Spencer Harrison who painted the mural on the wall using the colours of the spice market. To address the ever-changing requirements of the space, we designed modular trestle-style benches and fold-down tables which can be cleared out of the way or re-arranged as needed. The benches are cut from full off-the-shelf sheets of pre-finished ply and dimensioned so that there was minimal cutting and offcuts, saving on labour.
Wall shelves were dimensioned in a similar way. Of the few remaining offcuts, these were opportunistically repurposed in other parts of the project, for example as supports for the fold-down benches on the wall. Keeping the cooking classes in mind, power needed to be brought into the centre of the space. To do this neatly we adapted some of Anchor Ceramic's terracotta light fittings to house power points instead of globes so they were practical as well as decorative.


Completion date


Building levels


Project team

Circle Studio Architects