A summary of results of the first phase of a study into the feasibility of a new queer community centre building for Vancouver was released by The Centre’s board of directors Jan 31.
“More than 95 percent of those who participated were in favour of creating a new centre,” reads the summary. “They want it to be clean, welcoming and inclusive with something for everyone. They want programs and activities to include health and educational workshops, social gatherings, as well as art and cultural celebrations for all ages.”
The Centre’s current home at the corner of Bute and Davie Sts is dilapidated, unsuitably small, and accessible only via a steep and narrow staircase. Last spring, the City of Vancouver awarded a $35,000 grant, to be combined with $10,000 from The Centre’s building fund. The money was to be used to study community support for the idea of a new community centre building for queer people, to see if there were enough resources and commitment to construct and maintain one, and to create a vision of what it might be like.
This first phase of the study consisted of a series of focus groups and surveys online and in Xtra West. The Centre hired queer activist Betty Baxter to facilitate the focus groups, organize the data and write a report on the results.
“In the end I was very happy,” Baxter told Xtra West Feb 8. “We were pretty darn close to 900 responses. You never have a community consultation that’s long enough or good enough; that’s the nature of the beast. But we had a good representation. There was a lot of energy. People were pretty consistent in saying that we need to do this.”
Baxter says the vast majority of the survey responses were completed online and that turnout for the focus groups and community meetings was small. For example, only six people attended the first community meeting and a focus group for queer business leaders attracted only two participants.
“I can take some of the responsibility; the whole committee can,” says Baxter. “We made some design errors. I thought the focus groups would be core input and that online would be more peripheral. Clearly, the community’s level of comfort for online was way higher.”
Baxter is confident that there is both enthusiasm and resources enough to bring the building project to fruition.
“We need four of five years of really solid fundraising,” she says. “By 2012 or 2015, we’ll be opening a really fabulous space. We need the professional focus of the business folks to say, ‘I can do this. I’ll put my $1,000 into this charity as opposed to others.”
What conclusions did Baxter come to about what form a new building might take?
“People want a building that’s three or four stories high, that can handle arts and culture, that includes a coffee shop or social space, as well space for services,” she says.
But the summary of Baxter’s report, as released by The Centre’s board of directors, outlines two possible models. One is a new 20,000 square-foot, four-storey building in The Centre’s current location; the second is “a new central hub space with several satellite spaces.”
“The two models were certainly the conclusions drawn from Betty’s report,” says Donna Wilson, The Centre’s executive director. “Model one is a multi-use space. It’s a facility that is welcoming and inviting to the diversity of folks in our communities. Model two reflects the input that folks gave us that said, ‘We’d really like to make sure there’s a presence of LGBT-specific resources in my neighbourhood and community.'”
Although Baxter says the report she submitted is about 25 pages long, the summary released by The Centre’s board of directors is less than two pages. Wilson declined to share Baxter’s report with Xtra West saying the board has no plans to make it publicly available.
“What we want to do is make sure the communities understand what was achieved in phase one of the feasibility study and to make sure that people understand that there are opportunities for involvement throughout phase two and into the future,” she explains. “The report is a working document and it is best understood by the folks who have been involved in the feasibility study to date. As a working document, it rests with the board.”
But on Feb 12, Craig Maynard, the president of The Centre’s board of directors, e-mailed a copy of the full report to Xtra West.
“A copy of the report will be available at the Centre’s websites,” he wrote. But the report had not yet appeared online as Xtra West went to press.
“Most respondents want a centre to be located in the West End of Vancouver but many also want a presence in other neighbourhoods, particularly the Eastside,” read Baxter’s full report. “Some want programs linked with existing city community centres throughout various neighbourhoods… Many suggested a central hub location and satellite locations for various programs, and many suggested the existing location or very close by.”
Wilson says the second, and final, phase of the study is in the planning stage now and will be complete by “April or May.”
“We’re looking at who is continuing on to phase two from the project steering group and what additional resources we want to bring into the group,” she says.
Phase two, she adds, will involve discussions “with a number of planning consultants,” brainstorming with the reorganized project steering group, and decisions about what the building will actually look like.
Wilson says anyone who would like to contribute to the process is welcome to contact her directly.
“I want to thank people for participation in phase one,” she says. “It’s about us; all of us together,” she continues. “It’s not about one group of people doing something for another group of people. [The Centre’s board of directors] is giving leadership to this, but in making a true community centre we need everybody’s involvement.”