It is an unlikely oasis in modern Singapore. Close your eyes, and the gentle quacks and clucks of farm birds transport you to a rural escape far from the noise and tension of the city.
And yet, Green Hub is a community space in a thoroughly urban setting, just five minutes from Junction 8 mall, in Bishan Street 12.
Occupying the void decks of two Housing Board blocks and an open area next to a basketball court, it has a garden, a “pet farm”, a nostalgia corner, a library and recycling areas.
Green Hub had its genesis in a community garden started in January 2020 by former residents’ committee chairman Fen Ng, 50, and current chairman Julie Lim, 47, at an underutilised residents’ corner. The idea was to grow fruits to share with residents and to promote sustainability.
Then the pandemic hit – and Covid-19 restrictions gave the project an unlikely boost. As working and schooling from home became the norm, many residents welcomed having a space to temporarily escape to that was practically at their doorstep.
In socially distanced groups, they shared knowledge and grew interest in areas such as gardening, library management and making fertiliser.
Residents also donated items to decorate the space – and such is the curation of furniture, vintage curios and decorative items that the void deck resembles a boutique hotel lobby.
Ms Lim says: “Every piece of furniture in this eco-habitat tells a story. To us, this is not just a place where you chill – it’s a place where you connect, a place where you bond. Others feel like this is their corner as well. You feel that it’s home.”
A community library was created and remains stocked with a continuous inflow of donated books. Residents are welcome to borrow books to their hearts’ content. Children also enjoy playing on the nearby carousel and swings.
Today, this modern kampung is run by a dedicated team of volunteers aged 12 to 73, many of whom have found a sense of purpose by contributing.
One such volunteer is 70-year-old Alice Leong, who starts her day at 7am on the “farm”. She cares for the pet poultry, letting the birds out to roam the walkway, feeding them and cleaning their cages.
“For all the years I was working, I had no time,” says the retiree, who grew up in a kampung but never had a chance to play with animals such as the fluffy, ornamental Silkie chicken.
“After my retirement, I found that these were the things I missed, so I am catching up now.”
The pet farm was set up thanks to a rejected gift. A resident called to say that he had bought chickens as a surprise present for his wife, only to be met with an ultimatum: Either the chickens went, or she would.
The farm now has about 10 animals, including ducks.
Green Hub’s spaces are accessible round the clock. On Sundays, an open house is organised for residents to carry out general maintenance and connect with one another. The past months have seen a growing influx of visitors from other estates.
Chan Yik (below), 12, is Green Hub’s youngest volunteer. He initially thought that he was too young to help out but was warmly welcomed, and he now helps to water the plants or feed the animals.
“Sometimes, when kids touch the animals, they will tell their parents, ‘No, no, no, I don’t want to feed the ducks’. But once they feed the ducks, they’re like, ‘Oh, I want to do it again’. Looking at their expressions, I feel very happy,” says Chan Yik.
Water for the animals and plants comes from rain catchers, which were set up along with vertical planters and hydroponic systems with the help of entrepreneur Ruan Lim.
Mr Lim, 44, stumbled upon Green Hub at a vulnerable time, when his businesses in Thailand had to be closed and he had to return to Singapore.
“I was trapped in my house, savings being drained, and close to depression,” he says. “Being a part of this community, it has been an amazing journey. I’ve made many friends. And even when I couldn’t be productive in my personal life, I felt that I could bring something to the community.”
Taking a cue from Green Hub, Mr Lim plans to set up a 5,000 sq ft community garden near his home in Punggol.
Madam Leong, who has lived in Bishan for more than three decades, says she would not have come to know many residents if not for Green Hub.
“Everywhere you go here, they see you and call out to you,” she says.
Residents are now closer, and can share and find support about personal issues they face, adds Madam Leong.
Three years in, many ideas and initiatives continue to emerge for Green Hub, but Ms Lim (above) is mindful that any further expansion will require more volunteers to step up.
Still, she is more than pleased with how residents have bonded and invested in the project.
“This place is like my baby, and I’ve seen it grow from strength to strength. And I’m very proud when my baby receives compliments that it is doing well. So I’m glad it’s getting stronger. It’s self-sustaining.”