RENEWING NEWTON NEIGHBOURHOODS

PROJECT SUMMARY

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT (COMMUNITY CAPACITY BUILDING)

 

The purpose of community development is to encourage residents of an area to come together, to get to know each other, and to work together to better their community or neighbourhood. It involves residents talking to each other, being “neighbourly” to each other, building community pride and spirit, and sometimes undertaking projects that improve the quality of life in a neighbourhood. It is about residents taking the initiative to make improvements, sometimes in partnership with agencies and governments, rather than sitting back and demanding that government provide services for them. Involvement in such activities can give residents a sense of accomplishment, pride, self-worth, and empowerment.

 

The type of activities undertaken as a result of community capacity building include community conversations, input to planning and development applications, crime prevention, traffic management, street and park beautification, block parties, farmers markets, moms and tots groups, and community gardens.

It is a concept that takes some time to come to fruition, and which needs careful nurturing in its early stages.

This concept is based on work by John McKnight of Northwestern University ( “Building Communities from the Inside Out”), Jim Diers of Seattle (“Neighborhood Power”) and Trevor Hancock in Toronto who initiated the Canadian Healthy Communities concept. It has been employed in a number of municipalities across Canada and the U.S.

CONTEXT OF THE PROJECT

 

In 2008, the Surrey Association of Sustainable Communities (Surrey ASC) received a grant from the United Way to undertake work in Surrey related to developing as an umbrella organization for community associations, carrying out community development and capacity building, and encouraging sustainability.

Our approach was to:

 

* Hold a city wide workshop with an inspirational speaker on community capacity building;
* Identify an area of Surrey which we could focus on and where our resources would be most effectively used;
* Within this area, raise awareness of the value of community capacity building and encourage people to get involved through a series of neighbourhood forums;
* Follow up with people that become involved;
* Continue this process as funds are available.

 

The project began with the organization of a Surrey-wide public workshop, led by Jim Diers, former Director of Seattle’s Neighborhood Division and author of “Neighbourhood Power”. Mr. Diers is well known in Western Canada and the U.S. as an inspirational speaker on community capacity building. This workshop, held in May, 2008, was attended by nearly 90 people, including two members of City Council.

 

We were fortunate to attract the interest of local newspapers in this workshop, with one newspaper running a pull-out section on community associations in Surrey and mentioning the workshop, and the other featuring an article on the workshop and also an editorial praising our efforts after an editor attended the workshop.

From the many community issues identified at this workshop, the area of Surrey known as Newton, with a population of about 100,000 was identified as most suitable for further work. Residents of that district were concerned about many social issues such as prostitution, homelessness, and crime, and felt the area needs improvement.

 

There are few area-based community organizations in Newton that could bring residents together to get involved in their community and undertake a community capacity building and community development project, to encourage local residents to identify their assets, to get involved in their community, and to work together with others and with local organizations to better their way of life.

 

It is worthwhile noting here that also arising from the Jim Diers workshop, Surrey ASC made representations to Council on two occasions, for funding to help neighbourhood groups get going and undertake small projects that enhance their areas. In November, 2008, Council announced $25,000 of funding for a Neighbourhood Matching Grant Program. However, implementation of this program has been delayed by lack of staff.

 

RENEWING NEWTON NEIGHBOURHOODS

 

This name for the project was chosen after considerable discussion amongst participants. As a first phase of the project, in order to generate local interest, a meeting was organized in Newton in August, 2008, to which representatives of local social service organizations, local volunteer groups, the City, and residents known to be active in the community were invited. Some 37 people attended this meeting and about 10 persons volunteered to serve on a planning committee to advise on organizing the project. Over subsequent months, this planning committee, called the Newton Core Group, met about ten times.

 

The scale of work of the project was such that it could not all be carried out by volunteers, and in the Fall of 2008, the contract position of community developer, part-time for six months, was advertized. The successful applicant was Karen Kreis, who has a Masters degree in Environmental Design and who has worked as a planner. She carried out the much of the subsequent work, under the overall coordination of Rosemary Zelinka, the Coordinator of Surrey ASC, who is a professional planner with some 30 years of experience in social planning. The Newton Core Group was advised of progress and had input to all major decisions, which were also subject to general approval by the Executive of Surrey ASC. Progress was reported to monthly general meetings of the Surrey ASC membership, which includes representation from 20 community associations in Surrey.

 

Additional grants were also applied for, to assist in funding the project, and one was received from BC Healthy Communities. In this grant application, the goals of RNN were described as follows:

 

* Inform residents of Newton of the merits of community capacity building;
* Encourage residents to identify community assets and issues;
* Promote the building of neighbourhood identity, involvement, and spirit;
* Encourage residents to hold community conversations and form groups to resolve issues; and
* Promote the formation of partnerships in resolving issues.

 

The second phase of the project commenced in January 2009, with our community developer getting out into the community, and meeting with existing groups such as community schools, school parent advisory committees, Block Watch captains, other volunteer groups, and social agencies serving Newton. She also started work on organizing public meetings (neighbourhood forums) to bring citizens together to discuss common issues and goals.

 

While we all wanted to hold as many neighbourhood forums as possible, to work at the neighbourhood rather than district level, funding and time limitations resulted in a decision to hold a meeting in each of Newton’s five secondary schools. Further investigation revealed that the secondary schools were not available on preferred dates, and in the end, we went with four meetings, each covering a sector of Newton and located in a mix of schools and community facilities. The forums were held during April, 2009.

Advertizing

 

We were able to attract the interest of local newspapers to advertize the RNN project and our meetings. One newspaper ran an interview of one of the Core Group members, while the other ran an article on the project.

 

We also spent a good portion of our budget on buying advertizing in these newspapers. Posters publicizing the forums were also placed in community facilities, and commercial premises, and e-mailed to all possible interested parties.

 

Some members of the Core Group and our community developer handed out flyers at events, and even went door-to-door in one area in order to attract attendees.

Forum Format

 

The format of each neighbourhood forum was as follows:

* Table displays were set up regarding the work of Surrey ASC, the RCMP, the City, and local social service and volunteer organizations;
* Those attending the forum were encouraged to sit at tables designated for the catchment areas of each elementary school within the sector of Newton covered by the forum (this was intended to place neighbours together but did not work out too well in practice)

* An introduction regarding the purpose of the forum and the concept of community capacity building was given by the forum moderators;
* Group discussions were held in which participants identified what they liked about their neighbourhood (their assets) and what they didn’t like (their issues). Representatives from Surrey ASC and social agencies acted as facilitators
* Participants then discussed how the issues could be resolved, and by whom;
* Flip charts of findings were stuck on walls (and later transcribed) and the forums’ moderators summarized the findings, by topic.
* Copies of the Community Development Resource Book for Newton (Appendix 3) were given to participants, and the moderators pointed out the types of project that neighbourhood groups could undertake, and the resources available to assist them;
* Representatives of the RCMP and Block Watch, plus Surrey Environmental Partners and Concerned Residents of Newton gave brief presentations explaining their roles and encouraging participants to join them.
* Participants were invited to meet with organizers after the forum, and to complete comment sheets if interested in getting together to discuss working together to improve their neighbourhoods.

 

Results of the forums:

 

On the whole, the forums were well attended, with 25- 50 participants at each, except for the one held at an Indo-Canadian seniors’ centre. Our community developer was advised that many people would have attended this forum if it were not for the forum coinciding with an important play-off game of the Canucks hockey team. In total, nearly twenty people signed up to discuss further possibilities of working together.

 

Those attending identified many assets of Newton, including parks, community facilities, proximity of shopping, and some examples of neighbourliness. In terms of issues, crime, social issues, and planning and development problems dominated the discussions. Concerns that were expressed include drug-dealing, prostitution, on-street safety, homelessness, seedy clientele of some motels, unclean streets, graffiti, too many social agencies and pawnshops in one area, lack of activities for youth, seniors being socially isolated, lack of bylaw enforcement, lack of community spirit, non-regulated recovery homes, insufficient parks, illegal suites, traffic congestion and speeding, and poor snow removal.

 

Follow-up

 

A follow-up meeting was held in early June, with persons who had indicated an interest in continuing with the project, at which the findings from the flip charts were presented, and a number of possible projects were identified. Participants discussed forming a Newton community-wide group, or possibly several smaller neighbourhood-level groups. A number of participants volunteered to form a group named Newton Community Voice, which as it evolves, could include neighbourhood level groups.

Surrey ASC agreed to continue to assist in the development of the group, as funding permits. Leaders of NCV were invited to attend Surrey ASC’s monthly meetings, where relevant speakers are brought in, and information and advice shared amongst community groups from throughout Surrey.

 

At the Newton Festival, held in June, Surrey ASC had a display describing its work. Flyers and a sign –up sheet regarding Newton Community Voice were displayed at this table and also the RCMP Block Watch table.

 

Outcomes of the Forums:

 

We regard the project as very successful, as follows:

* Through several newspaper articles, all 100,000 residents of Newton had the opportunity to read about community capacity building and the merits of being more neighbourly and involved in the community. As well as the detailed information about community assets and resources provided to the more than a hundred people who attended our forums, nearly twenty residents are looking to get involved and do things of benefit to their community.

* A number of new groups have been formed to implement the findings of the neighbourhood forums. Newton Community Voice is intending to operate at a district-wide level. At a neighbourhood level: a new community association is currently being formed in the East Panorama Ridge part of Newton, which Surrey ASC is assisting to develop. In addition, a group living around the Henry Bose School is seeking funding to improve the school playground.

* A number of participants signed up to volunteer with organizations partnering in the forums, such as Block Watch.

* A diverse population was attracted to our meetings, including many ethnic minorities who are intending to get more involved. Although it is unfortunate that our efforts to reach out to the Indo-Canadian population through holding a meeting in their premises did not work out, our community developer established good links within that community.

* Strong links and partnerships have been built with other volunteer groups in Newton and with social agencies, in working together to develop and carry out this project. Cooperation and help from the City and RCMP has been particularly valued.

* The RCMP nominated our project for both Provincial and City crime prevention awards. On request, we also gave the RCMP permission to use our Resource Book in its activities throughout Newton.

Lessons Learnt

If we were to do this type of project again, we would:

* Not hold it during ice hockey play-off season;
* Not hold it in Surrey schools, if possible, due to difficulties encountered with their rentals system;
* Have a longer preparation time before forums are held in order to maximize opportunities to attract residents to attend; and
* Try and have more funding available to pay professional staff so that volunteers don’t have to do so much and staff don’t have to volunteer their time.

 

Conclusion

 

In addition to the above outcomes, we are very pleased with the partnerships that have evolved during the course of this project and the degree of collaboration that has developed. We have proved that community development, as we practised it, is useful and worthwhile. We, Surrey ASC, are seeking further funding to carry our program to the rest of Surrey, and in the process of applying for further grants, we were heartened by the willingness of both the City and the RCMP to provide us with letters of support, based on our efforts in Newton.