Vancouver
2 min

How out of touch can The Centre be?

I'm astonished by the board's willingness to make such a huge decision without consultation

They circled the wagons before we even got in the door.

“You’re not going to leave us outside, are you?” barbara findlay asks Centre board member Rebecca Shields as the latter seems inclined to shut the door in our faces.

Having heard a rumour that The Centre is planning to leave the West End and relocate to Burrard and 7th, several concerned community members are attempting to crash a board meeting at co-chair Craig Maynard’s home.

Shields reluctantly lets us into the building but says the board must meet first to settle some business. The door shuts with a click.

Snatches of conversation drift into the hall. “We’ll give them 30 minutes,” says one director, presumably referring to the presentation findlay and Jim Deva have come to make. “If it becomes unruly…” says another.

Two minutes and the word “traitors” float by. The door opens.

Findlay gets right down to business. “If you move to Burrard and 7th you will kill The Centre. Period. Full stop,” she says.

I’m on the edge of my seat.

Findlay proceeds to systematically pick apart any arguments that could potentially be made in favour of the move. (Accessible space? Mary, please. The building might be accessible but that steep incline is anything but.)

Bottom line: a community centre should be located in the heart of the community it’s meant to serve. Our community centre needs to be in our gay village. This is where we gather. Even as we disperse throughout the city, we come home to our village, to our spaces, to a place where we are once again the majority and we belong.

It’s not rocket science.

Deva unveils a plan to raise funds to help pay The Centre’s rent, which apparently is the reason precipitating this move. Donations drying up, must cut costs, can’t cut programs, that leaves rent and staff.

I’m not disputing the need to cut costs in this economic climate. What astonishes me is the board’s willingness to take such an enormous decision as leaving the gay village without even consulting the community it purports to serve.

Just whose Centre do they think they’re running?

“You are not the community centre,” Deva tells the directors around the table. “The community centre is the community’s. You are the stewards of the community centre.”

I bite my lip trying not to applaud wildly.

Maynard and company seem convinced that they know what’s best for our Centre. That they alone can make these monumental decisions then simply pat us on the head when they’re done, tell us they researched it thoroughly and that we can trust them.

Well, I don’t. I didn’t before this meeting and frankly I left appalled. This time their father knows best attitude has gone too far.

“Be very, very careful that you’re not the board that ends the community centre,” Deva warns them.

If you move The Centre to Burrard “it will be the most unpopular centre this side of Prince Edward Island,” findlay says.

“Is that a threat?” asks Jennifer Breakspear, The Centre’s executive director.

“No, it’s a description,” findlay coolly replies.

As the delegation departs, I ask Breakspear if the board is planning a community consultation. “I have to talk to the board,” she says.

Within the hour, my phone rings. The board wants me to come back. I’m shocked. Have they come to their senses?

Far from. It’s damage control on a message track. And the message is that as “stewards of the organization” they must maximize its resources to best serve the community and maintain its programs.

“No one area of Vancouver, the West End specifically, is being abandoned,” Maynard says. “We understand the history behind our presence in that area. But we have to realize there are many areas calling to us.”

I ask Maynard if he’ll hold a community consultation. He trots out the old feasibility study from a couple of years ago.

“We really have an understanding of the needs of the community,” says Shields.

I manage not to laugh. Barely.