Good news

Pop-up community centre and 'lending hub' invites North Park residents to play, create in new plaza

Borrow a game or a tool, or just enjoy a beautiful day on Vancouver Street

By Emily Fagan
September 24, 2021
Good news

Pop-up community centre and 'lending hub' invites North Park residents to play, create in new plaza

Borrow a game or a tool, or just enjoy a beautiful day on Vancouver Street

By Emily Fagan
Sep 24, 2021
Photo: Emily Fagan / Capital Daily
Good news

Pop-up community centre and 'lending hub' invites North Park residents to play, create in new plaza

Borrow a game or a tool, or just enjoy a beautiful day on Vancouver Street

By Emily Fagan
September 24, 2021
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Pop-up community centre and 'lending hub' invites North Park residents to play, create in new plaza
Photo: Emily Fagan / Capital Daily

This story is part of The Good Newsletter, Capital Daily’s weekly spotlight on uplifting stories and community resources. Subscribe today to receive good news in your inbox every Friday.

On the car-free stretch of Vancouver street between the Royal Athletic Park and the tiny home village of temporary housing for formerly unhoused people, a new type of community centre has popped up in the North Park neighbourhood. 

A new lending hub, built and operated by the North Park Neighbourhood Association, offers free access to games, art supplies, gardening tools, sports equipment, and more. Alongside the robin’s-egg blue hut is a new little free library, shaded seating, murals, and spaces for food trucks to operate.

“The lending hub is sort of like a larger-than-life little free library,” said Sarah Murray, executive director of the North Park Neighbourhood Association. 

The hub doesn’t take collateral or have aggressive means of tracking down its loaned-out goods; Murray says that defeats the purpose. 

“The whole purpose is providing opportunities for recreation that are accessible and as very low-barrier as possible. If that means that we don't get a puzzle or a board game back, it's no big deal.”

Due to the federal grant that funded this project, the North Park Neighbourhood Association wasn’t allowed to advertise it during the federal election. In spite of this, the lending hub has already grown to be a fixture in the community, with more than 68 items borrowed by locals since it opened around the end of August.

So far, Murray says the lending hub has seen a surprising amount of activity from the community with only word-of-mouth advertising. 

“Of the things that are in there to lend, about two-thirds of them are signed out at any given time, so we're seeing really great uptake,” Murray said.

For some, stopping by has become part of their regular routine. Robin Rombs and his 11-year-old son pass the lending hub, where his partner works, every day after school and have gotten in the habit of picking up new board games.

“Our current favourite is one from the late 80s that I'd never heard of before, called Abalone,” Rombs said.

While the games are the resource his family uses the most, Rombs says he appreciates the variety of items available—from umbrellas, to water bottles, to dog treats. There’s also a compressed air pump on the outside of the hub for people to use at any time of day when they need to fill up their tires on strollers or bikes.

“It's a resource for all families, but particularly ones that can't necessarily afford to go to the Board Game Cafe or to museums all the time,” he said.

As Rombs’ family recently moved to North Park from the Oaklands neighbourhood, he’s enjoyed getting to know his neighbours—including several local mural artists—through their run-ins at the lending hub. Members of the community have started to take responsibility for caring for the items in the lending hub, with the hopes it will achieve long-term sustainability. 

Fernwood resident David Boudinot recently checked out a game of Operation and was surprised to find only four pieces out of the standard 12 in the box. To return the game to playable condition, Boudinot used the 3D printer at the UVic library, where he works, to create new game pieces to donate to the lending hub.

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“It was awesome—he returned the game with two full sets of all the organs the little game could ever need,” Murray said.

Any donations of games—with all their pieces, of course—and other recreation equipment are appreciated at the hub, she says.

Aside from the odd rogue baseball from the nearby stadium, this stretch of Vancouver Street wasn’t previously one that saw much action. Many other stretches of road around the city have seen a similar surge of pedestrian activity as spaces previously reserved for cars have been creatively repurposed, from extended patios to the pedestrian plazas on Broad and Government Street.

“When you provide that kind of infrastructure, [it’s] encouraging people to be there on the plazas,” said Rombs.

This past month, the community has embraced this space and the North Park Neighbourhood Association’s dream of a “pop-up community center.”

The hub is currently open every day from 11 am to 7 pm, but will move to a reduced 12-6  schedule in October. With current funding, Murray expects to keep the hub staffed and running up through June 2022.

As the weather grows colder, Murray says that they’re looking to host more events through the hub. This will kick off on Oct. 2, with a building block festival for kids and their families to make towers, cities, and more out of wooden blocks. There is also a weekly knitting circle that meets at the lending hub on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with support and supplies for first-time knitters.

“It’s just [a place for] fun activities, making use of an underused community space, making people feel included in their community, and cutting down on all that social isolation that we feel especially in a time like during covid,” she said.

Murray hopes to soon have food trucks along the street as well, as the city has provided mobile vending permits for the spaces around the lending hub. In the future, she envisions the plaza as a space for locals to host parties, meet with their neighbours, and access recreation resources they might not be able to otherwise.

For Boudinot, it’s already allowed him and his kids to connect over games he loves but had forgotten about since his childhood.

“It really is filling a need that I almost didn't realize was there,” Boudinot said.

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