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‘Hostile’ community will kill village volunteers

June 13th,2024 | Opinion

Their pleas for trust, respect and civility say it all. 

When community volunteers are verbally attacked for decisions they’ve been entrusted to make, it’s clear that there is a problem with the way things are being run. 

Case in point: Centre Wakefield-La Pêche and the volunteer board. It seems no matter who is at the helm, the volunteer board eventually gets dragged through the mud by former board members and the community. 

It happens every time a new board is sworn in at the centre. They show up fresh-faced, wide-eyed and committed to improving things. But within months, you see that enthusiasm die. Exhausted board members who put upwards of 20–40 hours of volunteer time some weeks, show up to board meetings gassed. But not just tired – tired and afraid. 

Afraid to face a “hostile” community. 

Things really began to crumble beginning in 2020, when there was chatter of the MRC des Collines turning the building into a regional cultural centre. The fear was that the membership would lose control of English programming in the centre that was “built by the community, for the community,” as then board president Irene Richardson stated. 

That idea didn’t survive long. Good thing. 

But then the centre started bleeding money. Posting small deficits, with projections only seeming to get bigger and bigger each year. The decade-old building also began falling into disrepair – deteriorating floors, aging lighting and sound equipment and a looming roof replacement, which will cost over half a million dollars. It was becoming clear that maintaining the building was not sustainable for the cooperative. 

Then a draft agreement showed up from the municipality – an offer to take over the building, while leaving the cooperative in control of programming, events and rentals. This was the divisive straw that broke members’ backs. The membership was seemingly split – torn over whether to hand over everything they had built as a community to a municipality that does not have bilingual status in Quebec. The fears are warranted, but the other side is even darker. 

Volunteers can’t be drug through the mud anymore. It’s clear that running the cooperative, running events and getting the centre “buzzing” with activities that everyone wants, while also ensuring the lights stay on, the toilets run and the bills get paid is too much for seven volunteer board members to handle. 

It’s not okay when volunteers show up in tears afraid to face their own community. 

And if you look at the municipality’s track record on these types of agreements, there is no reason not to trust that it will do what’s in the best interest of cooperative members. 

The Fairbairn House made a similar deal with the municipality, and board member Dougall Rattray said the transition has been “seamless.”

Places des Arts Farrellton (PAF) is currently negotiating a similar deal with La Pêche, where the municipality purchased the building from the school board and became the landlord, while PAF continues to manage programming. PAF president Hannah Ranger said the municipality has been supportive and expressed that they have no interest in planning events there. The collective is “confident” they will be able to run the arts centre the way they want. 

It’s wonderful that members are so engaged and take such ownership of their beloved centre. But if they don’t take this offer from the municipality, nobody in their right mind will sign up to be a volunteer board member, and the village will be left with an empty building that will continue to bleed money. 

Vote on June 20 and make your voice heard. 

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