Rodney Youth Centre Café - Focus Group Success
he sense of community is strong in Rodney. On April 17, 2018, the topics of West Elgin's youth, community building, and social enterprise drove great discussion and sharing at a Focus Group at the Rodney Rec Centre. This event was organized by the Rodney Youth Centre and facilitated by Andre Vashist and Nick Van Der Velde of Pillar Non-profit Network and Impact Consulting. 20 participants, over a quarter of them being under the age of 20 engaged in the focus group: a structured approach to creative, intentional brainstorming that blended and unified different visions, ideas, and aspirations to address the challenge of better serving the youth in West Elgin.
Andre and Nick facilitated the discussion, drawing out fantastic ideas and discussion points from everyone present. People shared their common interest in growing the community, supporting youth, and seeing the downtown revitalized.
During the focus group, Nick described how this process started with the Calvary United Church reaching out to Impact Consulting to assist in catalyzing a community effort to better support youth, through a collection of potential social enterprise business models. Since, these models have been well researched, which shaped the project's current trajectory: an idea of a community-run café that can provide a safe and welcoming space for youth and other members of our community.
In addition, participants were invited to share feedback and ideas to flesh out the café idea - the result? A full wall in the Rodney Rec Centre filled up with post-it notes capturing people's ideas, suggestions and feedback; suggestions ranged from choices of food and drinks the café could offer, to store hours, potential customer groups and community linkages to the West-Elgin community.
The focus group facilitated discussion around the services that could be offered along with amentities, such as: free Wi-Fi access, types of music to be played in the background, and evenings of planned entertainment, with examples of live music and stand-up comedy.
The aesthetics of the building and space were discussed, and the best ways to make sure that the space is inviting and representative of our community. Many people could picture the space as a community hub of activity, where people could meet, share upcoming events and perhaps even buy local goods produced by local artisans and crafts-people.
The accessibility was an important topic, as well as making sure it was a space welcome to everyone.
Through the evening Greg Simpson acted as barista, serving coffee, tea, espresso, latte, and hot chocolate to all in attendance. There were a few parents picking up their youngsters from the YWCA-run activity night next door who stopped in for a few minutes to add their voices to the conversation as well.
The blue-sky discussions brought many delightful ideas that people had seen and experienced in other communities. Dance clubs, music clubs, and art therapy came up. Arcade games and pool tables were suggested to make sure the youth know the spot caters to them. Stalls to sell antiques or other crafts were suggested also.
Transportation came up in discussions. Many people validated the idea of a drive-through window to serve people who don't have time to sit down for a coffee. Exterior bike racks and plug-ins for electric scooters might encourage people to get out and get healthy in their community while meeting with friends or getting their caffeine fix. The positive impact of the café as another method to draw people into downtown Rodney was mentioned frequently and the benefit to other businesses and the community at large.
As the conversation deepened, people wondered about how to make sure this idea has staying power. Funding sources were considered, as well as the right blend of community partners, service groups, individuals and businesses needed to make this work. There was dialog around mixing hired staff with volunteers to meet the needs of the café and programming provided. Nick and Andre's experience with social enterprise and community involvement aided this discussion, and they shared hope for the future of this project. Community involvement from Calvary United Church, the Rodney Kiwanis and the Municipality of West Elgin have already been instrumental in other Rodney Youth Centre activities, as well as funding from the EDGE Network, a funding organization within the United Church of Canada.
The evening wrapped up with discussion of next steps. Communication with the community and getting more people involved where the strongest suggestions. The more people involved, the better the chances for success. Participants were excited to know that this is more than just a youth venture, it's something to draw the whole community together. They compiled a list of other groups and individuals to collaborate with, and many offered ways they are willing to volunteer in the future.
One thing is for certain, the sense of community is strong in Rodney, and people are excited and committed to nurturing and growing it.
The full report can be viewed here: Focus Group Summary Report
Thank you so much to Andre and Nick for facilitating, Rodney Youth Centre for organizing, and everyone for participating.