Collingwood Neighbourhood House fosters community engagement amidst pandemic

CNH continues to hold physical and online programs by following social distancing protocols.


Reported by Patrick Wachter

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic halting group physical activities and community get-togethers, Collingwood Neighbourhood House (CNH) has continued to offer programs and events virtually and in person by following B.C. government social distancing protocols and regulations in all its community gatherings.

A snapshot of Collingwood Neighbourhood House in 2020

Alison Merton, who is the director of the early years program at CNH, reflected on what it was like in March 2020 when the neighbourhood house went into lockdown.

“At that time, the government was indicating that it was still safe to operate childcare. So, we closed all our other programs. Everything, our family programs, recreation programs, language classes closed down,” Merton said. “Nobody was coming into the building except a few skeleton staff that could deliver these [childcare] programs.”

According to Merton, Collingwood Neighbourhood had reopened in just “a couple of weeks” after its were shut down. Both its Main House at Joyce Street and its Annex site on Vanness Avenue now offer physical fitness programs like yoga, zumba and gymnastics and community classes like mixed media, Chinese caligraphy and parent/tot activities. Residents of South Vancouver can sign up to attend CNH activities over the phone or through email, as there is a limited number of participants allowed for each program event, and must wear masks when attending. Through CNH’s programs, it fostered community support for low-income families who lacked food security and seniors who were experiencing loneliness amidst the pandemic.

“There were a lot of food security issues for families and low-income families and seniors,” Merton said.  CNH implemented an outreach program to deliver groceries to people’s houses and also applied check-in programs for seniors over the phone, Merton said.

Ana Mateescu, family development coordinator at Collingwood Neighbourhood House, works with low-income families in the Joyce-Collingwood area. Mateescu said that CNH wanted to keep the program closed, but Mateescu explained to CNH that families need the program more now because of the pandemic.  Since her program recommenced, she’s been supporting families who’ve lost their jobs amidst the pandemic, who are dealing with domestic violence issues while quarantining and lack food security due to lack of access to food banks.

“Most [families in the program] of them lost their jobs,  got into a lot of domestic conflicts and had a really hard time in their day by day existence and for good reason I decided to support them.”

Nowadays, Mateescu said the program has a maximum capacity of 20 people, which includes four to five families and staff and involves “physical activities for the kids” in association with Red Fox Healthy Living Society, “parenting circles” every Monday followed by a communal dinner in the evening.

New program Walking the Mycelial Web

There are more events and programs coming to CNH in 2021. Its most recent is Walking the Mycelial Web: Community Art & Ecology Project Introduction, in collaboration with mycologist Willoughby Arevalo and artist Isabelle Kirouac. The program is a series of artistic activities inspired by ecology and fungal life, taking place primarily outdoors in three parks of the Renfrew-Collingwood neighborhood: Renfrew Ravine Park, Gaston Park, and Cariboo Park.

“It is a series of community engaged artistic activities that are inspired by ecology and fungal life,”  Arevalo said. “The events will be free of charge for anyone who is interested.”

Merton hopes to re-establish most of its programs by September.

“We hear from our participants in every age group that they want to come back to Collingwood, that they missed that connection with each other… there’s baby steps happening right now,  our recreation programs are starting to open. Everybody’s hope is that by September, there’ll be some kind of return to normal.”

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