The development of community properties

Posted: 2019/03/27

In several clusters and neighbourhoods across the country, the need to rent or purchase physical spaces to facilitate working with large numbers has emerged. Two recent property acquisitions, guided by the National Spiritual Assembly, in Ottawa, Ont., and Vancouver, B.C., serve as such examples.

Activities within the community-building process take shape in a variety of settings: parks, homes, community centres, libraries, schools. But in some locales the receptivity, and capacity to respond to it, are such that the natural limitations of these physical spaces have become an obstacle, and more is needed for the development of the cluster or neighbourhood to proceed unabated.

In its letter to all Local Spiritual Assemblies dated 7 December 2017, the National Spiritual Assembly introduced the Community Properties Fund, “to be established to support the acquisition, maintenance and use of properties at all levels of the community,” including possibilities such as facilities with residential space “dedicated to all forms of educational activity, offices to serve the needs of regional agencies and neighbourhood space to support children’s classes, junior youth groups and study circles”.

The Community Properties Fund will provide the ongoing material resources necessary for this advancement. The National Spiritual Assembly has contributed an initial $2.5 million to this Fund, and has called on the community to match this amount over the remainder of the current Five Year Plan. Returns from this sum will then generate funds allocated to community properties.

The examples of Greenboro, a locale in Ottawa, which recently acquired a neighbourhood centre, and Vancouver, where the National Spiritual Assembly purchased residential properties for training, help to demonstrate some of the conditions that led to this significant development.

Ottawa

The neighbourhood of Greenboro has been a centre of intense activity since 2014, with high receptivity. With over 25 core activities currently established, trying to work around the schedules and restrictions of city-offered spaces became impractical and an obstacle to growth.

Anthea Nelson-James, who serves in Greenboro, explained: “We wanted to be able to have trainings with youth that would be able to run for 8 hours a day, or be able to fit the schedule needs of the families we were working with. This was impossible to do in a community centre or a school – they have their own activities to do as well. So, for us to be able to continue to meet the growing needs of our neighbourhood, we needed to find our own space.”

This was shared with the National Spiritual Assembly, who warmly encouraged the community to move forward in its efforts to rent a building in the neighbourhood.

Finding a suitable property and making it fit for its purpose became an Ottawa-wide Bahá’í community effort. Some searched listings, and an appropriate option was found in a local strip mall. Volunteers worked tirelessly to renovate the property to suit the activities that would take place there. Meanwhile, the friends began outreaching near the space to start new junior youth groups and found their choice of location led to a number of confirmations.

“We were able to start about five junior youth groups in the span of about two-and-a-half weeks,” said Caitlin Moore, one of the pioneers to the neighbourhood. “It was a confirmation for our team… It showed us that there was such immense potential and a sincere longing for the junior youth and the families to be able to contribute to the well-being of their community in that way.”

In July 2018, it was opened as the Greenboro Neighbourhood Centre. To celebrate the occasion, the friends organized a neighbourhood barbeque that brought together a number of families and friends to welcome the new centre into their community.

“It seems like when people walk into the space,” Ms. Moore remarked, “it really is a centre for the neighbourhood – it’s theirs”.

Vancouver

In Vancouver, which is a learning site for the junior youth spiritual empowerment program, there was a growing need for a training facility with residential capacity to help advance all forms of educational activities throughout the cluster. With the encouragement of the Universal House of Justice, the National Spiritual Assembly began looking for suitable properties.

Again, confirmations poured in. Two newly-constructed duplexes directly beside Vancouver’s local Bahá’í Centre went up for sale and the National Spiritual Assembly was able to immediately purchase them. At the same time, the Local Spiritual Assembly of Vancouver, seeing how its Bahá’í Centre could help serve in a new capacity, decided to donate it to the National Spiritual Assembly so that the properties could work in unison to address the advancing teaching work. Now, though Centre-less, the Vancouver community has three buildings that serve as a training facility for the cluster.

The townhouses were quickly renovated into residential facilities suitable for accommodating large groups of people. Soon afterward, the new facility was put to use with trainings, meetings and gatherings focused on bolstering the work of the cluster.

The new Vancouver training facility was immediately put to work once it opened. Photo: Galen Humber

“There is a distinct spirit of joy and excitement at having such a facility to meet the training needs of the cluster and region.” The Institute Board of British Columbia and Yukon told the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada through email. “We are truly grateful for this precious space.”

“[U]nprecedented numbers are drawing closer to the Cause in Canada,” the National Assembly wrote in its 7 December 2017 letter, “each soul with a desire to serve their communities.” With the development of community properties, supported by the Community Properties Fund, some of the material requisites for nurturing this immense potential can be raised.