For anyone who has ever dared to dream of creating a large-scale community event or project, it can be daunting.
Just ask Coun. Chris Kloot who pulled together the inaugural and tremendously successful Rosedale Harvest Brigade in just three weeks last fall.
The synergy and speed with which they corralled support, resources and volunteers, yielded a stellar turnout of about 3,000 to the first event.
“It was amazing,” said Kloot. “It turned into this fabulous community event, and we’re planning next year’s already.”
With the theme, “Celebrating our agricultural roots” they closed the main road in Rosedale for a parade of large farm equipment, antique cars and horse-drawn carriages and firefighters provided a pancake breakfast for 800. They toasted marshmallows and set up a little market.
Sometimes an obstacle to planning these types of events, is traffic control costs for road closures, which can no longer be delegated to volunteers as a result of regulatory changes made by WorkSafe BC.
When city council stepped in to say those costs would be covered for the Rosedale Harvest Brigade event in October 2015, it paved the way for a new way of doing things.
“Effectively the city said, ‘You know what? We appreciate what you are doing to create community, so we’ll look after the traffic control costs,'” said Kloot.
That type of event-related cost might be covered in future under Community Projects funding in the City of Chilliwack budget.
City council is now moving decisively ahead with two key initiatives in 2016, that will streamline the organization and creation of new and existing events.
One, they are creating a brand new senior staff position to liaise with every single department at City Hall called a “Community Coordinator.”
Two, they are establishing $20,000 in seed money, available annually for Community Projects, under the aegis of Grassroots Neighbourhood Projects.
It’s all about creating community, engagement and vibrant neighbourhoods. It’s about neighbours get to know each other.
Some of these neighbourly ideas have their roots in the session held last fall in Chilliwack community builder Jim Diers, which was chaired by Coun. Jason Lum.
Diers’ website name says it all: neighbour power. Diers is described on his website as a speaker, facilitator, author and activator “assisting associations and agencies in support of caring, inclusive and powerful communities.”
But the ideas coming to fruition right now also come from listening to longtime community organizers who’ve championed their little neighbourhood events for decades, said Lum.
Chilliwack is actually community comprising many little neighbourhoods and each has their event: Yarrow Days, Greendale Sampler, Ryder Lake Ramble, Party in the Park and more.
Diers was the first director of City of Seattle’s “Department of Neighbourhoods” and Lum said their new Community Coordinator will be similar in some ways.
“That staff person liaises with the departments and can help walk people through the bureaucracy of permits, traffic, licensing and more. We’ve all heard about the challenges people have understanding and complying with all the rules, and we don’t want that to be a barrier.”
If city council wants to support this, it has to follow through.
Councillors Lum and Kloot both underlined that Chilliwack already has a well-established tradition of community events and community development initiatives.
“These were often events powered by the neighbours themselves, and we are building on this tradition,” said Lum. “If we want to promote and talk about these neighbourhood initiatives, it is important to have small seed funding to start these community events up.”
Also key is to have someone at city hall that you can come in and talk about a great idea with, like the new Community Coordinator, who will walk you through the regulatory process, he added.
They are aware it can be confusing starting out.
“A single point of contact at City Hall can help facilitate, and remove barriers. That person will help them navigate city hall,” said Lum.
Coun. Kloot agreed. He pointed out the number of community events and projects have increased to a great degree in recent years, while the staff dedicated to assisting with them have stayed the same.
“I am really proud of mayor and council for this,” said Coun. Lum. “I think it is a bold step in that we are taking action to ensure when we provide funding for something, we also provide the means to help the process along, like we are in creating this staff position.”
There’s always a risk of losing momentum and interest if the process of creating vibrant family-friendly events is too difficult, or if the community doesn’t have “a champion” at City Hall at the staff level.
“This is going to rekindle that flame of community spirit that we have always had in Chilliwack,” said Lum.