In 1868, Rev. James Taylor, the minister of the Collins Street Baptist Church (CSBC), inspired a group of Christian business men to buy a building in Brien Lane, off Little Bourke Street, to operate an educational mission for young men in the rapidly growing town of Melbourne.
The mission flourished, eventually expanding into neighbouring premises. In the 1920s and 1930s during the Depression, the Hall was open on six nights out of seven, and often had to close its doors to prevent overcrowding. After almost 70 years of operation, the ten Trustees (five Baptists and five non-Baptists) exchanged the property for a remodelled building close by in Little Bourke Street. On 10th February 1937, the building at 116 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, was officially opened as the Gospel Hall.
With the Second World War, there arose an urgent need for accommodation for servicemen on leave, and the Trustees and CSBC agreed to make the Gospel Hall available for temporary residential accommodation and the welfare of servicemen. This program was managed by Toc-H for the duration of the war. In the post-war years, it was used by the Salvation Army, and from the mid-1950s until the late 1990s by the Australian Institute of Archaeology as a Middle East museum, known as ‘Ancient Times House’: this name can still be seen on the Little Bourke Street façade.
In 1998, the Church resolved that the Trustees should develop the property as residential accommodation for financially disadvantaged students and young people threatened with homelessness and seeking intervention to stabilise their lives.
Construction commenced in July 2002, and the first eight tenants moved in simultaneously on 13th September 2004.
The building was re-named
‘Lion Garden’ to identify with the Chinese precinct and the name of a major donor, the Lions Club.
Generous capital funding was received from:
- Department of Human Services
- The Myer Fund
- Lions Club—Melbourne Host
- Urban Seed
- City of Melbourne
- Collins Street Baptist Church
- Melbourne City Mission
- Financial Control
Ecumenical Community Housing
Williams Boag Pty Ltd Syncon Pty Ltd Gospel Hall Inc.
‘Lion Garden’ Residences
Nine studio/one-bedroom apartments provide accommodation for eight young people (16–26) and one mentor. The property is managed by Housing Choices Australia (originally Ecumenical Community Housing, then Melbourne Affordable Housing). The program, originally known as the Youth Transition Model and now developed as a Youth Foyer, is run by Melbourne City Mission.
‘The Den’ Education facility
Urban Seed Education now occupies the ground floor office and training facility known as The Den, where they conduct workshops for school groups on issues of homelessness, addiction and community involvement. Urban Seed Education and The Mutuality Project were spun off in 2018 from Urban Seed, an urban engagement ministry established by CSBC in 1987.