Beach Lodge is an attractive heritage apartment building that is home to 40 residents in Vancouver’s West End Neighbourhood. The three-storey, brick building is located on Gilford Street, within sight of the ivy-covered Silvia Hotel, and English Bay just over a block away.
Even though Beach Lodge is situated within one of Vancouver’s most densely-populated neighbourhoods, resident Michael Seaborn noticed that his building lacked a sense of community.
“People knew each other in passing, but no one had spent any real time with one another in any organized way”, remarked Seaborn. While “everyone doesn’t fall into the same demographic” Seaborn realized potential and noted that “everyone has commonalities.”
While this sense of disconnection is troubling, it is not uncommon in Vancouver. After surveying hundreds of community leaders in 2011, the Vancouver Foundation was surprised to learn that the issue that concerned respondents most “was a growing sense of isolation and disconnection.”
To counter these concerns, the Foundation started the Neighbourhood Small Grants program which funds resident-led projects that help build community and strengthen connections.
At Beach Lodge, Michael Seaborn and neighbor David Stephen were awarded a grant to organize a community dinner and social event for residents in their apartment building.
The event took place on the lawn in front of their Beach Lodge on a warm June evening. The organizers rented a BBQ and ordered food, and on the night of the party residents brought down tables and chairs from their apartments. While planning, it was discovered that one resident was a chef. He later volunteered to BBQ the food for the event. The organizers also arranged games, and a ukulele player to play songs throughout the night. At one point an elderly couple who were passing by, started dancing to the Ukulele music, and then carried on with their evening stroll.
While Seaborn hypothesizes that it was the food that originally intrigued residents, he believes it was the novelty of the evening which encouraged between 25-30 people to actually attend.
“The event was a great success and more than three quarters of the building’s residents were able to participate. Everything came together,” remarked Seaborn, “It was a beautiful spring solstice night, with a very collegial and relaxed environment.”
Since the event, Michael has observed a noticeable difference in the interactions amongst his neighbours. Whereas in the past it was sometimes difficult to make meaningful connections. “Residents now know enough about their neighbours. They know their names, what they do, and their background,” stated Seaborn, “They now know who their neighbours are as a person, and can share common human experiences. People who had lived side by side for years formed a connection and now there is a strong interest in holding more such events in the future. One thought has been to expand the next event to include the building across the street, and possibly eventually into a block gathering.”
Neighbourhood Small Grants for the Downtown Peninsula are coordinated through Gordon Neighbourhood House and funded by the Vancouver Foundation. The next application deadline is March 2016. For more information visit neighbourhoodsmallgrants.ca, or contact Jim Balakshin, the Neighbourhood Small Grants Coordinator at Jim@gordonhouse.org.
Photos by Neighbourhood Small Grant Co-Applicant David Stephen
Written by Jim Balakshin