GWC Community Conversation

Submitted by Rachel Elizabeth on November 27, 2013 - 8:25pm

It was 8 years ago that the first three walked to the Stout Monk to ensure that the “local” would always be there for when men needed to get together for a beer.  Every second week they walked - through wind, and rain and sleet and snow - faithful to the commitment that they had made to each other.  They also quickly deduced that this was a good idea, and so diligently knocked on doors and invited their neighbours.  Slowly the numbers grew and soon six were walking, and then ten and the numbers continued to grow and the merry group expanded.

  

Now, it is important to provide the context that this group also gets together for the annual Canada Day Party (the 15 annual coming-up), the Halloween party, the volley ball party, the Robbie Burns party, and my personal favourite - the St. Patty’s day party that is hosted by our Jewish neighbour!  And this neighbourhood group has its own logo, which they have put on shirts, hats, toques, golf balls and aprons!  And a motto that encapsulates their vision – “No man need walk alone.”

It was with this group of neighbours – who proudly refer to themselves as the GWC - Gentlemen’s Walking Club – that a community conversation was held in North Oakville on November 14, 2013.  The hope was that these men,  who had created and nurtured a vibrant neighbourhood community, would be able to provide insight into what, if anything, was and is needed to encourage neighbours to get together and support each other.

It was with surprise, then, that when asked, “What makes this neighbourhood a desirable place to live?”,  that the initial replies indicated that this neighbourhood wasn’t much different than many other neighbourhoods – the cul-du-sac was desirable and the houses had detached garages but all-in-all it wasn’t that much different than many other places in Oakville.  It was perhaps with even greater surprise that when asked “What is the primary reason that you walk and have been walking for the last number of years?" that, among the laughter, the initial and reflexive answer, was – “The beer!”

Now don’t get me wrong – the beer is important - who doesn’t like a cold pint? – and arguing about sports is what guys do, but was that it?  Was that all?  Was the GWC all, and only, about the beer? 

“I enjoy the conversation,” one gentleman ventured, “and I always learn something new.”  “And I appreciate that when we are together we are all equal,” piped in another. “Nobody is pretentious.”  And then there were conversations reflecting pon parenting, coaching, and finding a job.  And the conversations that happened when a job was lost, a divorce occurred and a wife died - and what needed to be said was said - in the way that only men in relationship could say - or understand.

“My relationship with you guys changed my life,” ventured another.  And we listened as this gentleman shared how it was through the constant encouragement of the gentlemen that he found the fortitude to take up cycling - losing weight and gaining confidence in his self and his ability.  “And the support that you gave me and my wife was incredible,” shared another as he recounted the care and support that both he and his wife received from the neighbourhood following a serious illness.  “And don’t forget about how our kids talk about the GWC and know that we are always on the watch,” another said with pride.  And there was reflection that our kids are included, protected and feel that they are cared for by their extended group of fathers.

A shift occurred in the conversation and someone asked, “Why do we go to Kerr Street and prepare meals?” and another asked, “Why is it that we have gotten involved with the Oak Park Neighbourhood Center?”  And it was as the gentlemen engaged in these questions that strands of insight and learning emerged.

One gentleman observed that, “We are no different from people in other neighbourhoods. I believe,” he said, “people truly want to support each other and engage in their community.”  “Yes,” said another, “but why do we do things as a neighbourhood and others do not?”  Discussion ensued that focused on how the group has been allowed to grow organically as well as on the importance of intentionality in getting together and planning events where people can participate.  “That is one of the keys,” suggested another, “we continue to make room for new people in the neighbourhood.” “Yes,” said another, “often in new neighbourhoods people get together, but as the neighbourhood changes and develops the original neighbours tend to stay together and the new neighbours feel excluded.” 

And the conversation continued, and we shared a few pints and feasted on moose nachos (machos) and as always, enjoyed each others' companionship!

Below are the insights distilled from the conversation:

To create a healthy, vibrant community people need to:

§  be open to being good neighbours by seeing others as equal, by being unpretentious, and by being invitational,

§  eat and drink together – as couples, families and as a group,

§  become regular attenders – and meeting up with the group (even when you don’t want to go)

§  meet your neighbours at events and socials  - and then allow relationships to develop organically,

§  have fun … laugh … and have some more fun,

§  invite and give people the opportunity to participate in a variety of different ways 

§  Mean it when you invite others to come out, in a way that does not add pressure or expectations (allow space for people to participate in the way that they feel comfortable or not to participate)

§  instil a core set of values – respect for diversity, welcoming of others, non-judgemental attitude, looking out for one another

§  have a core set of “unofficial” leaders who are willing to keep things going

§  allow people to be themselves – without pressure to conform

§  be supportive of each others interests and lifestyles

§  be consultative in decision making