- Gayle Baker
A Year in Retrospect for ASK Salt Spring: October 4, 2019 - September 18, 2020
ASK Salt Spring was born from the clear frustrations experienced by too many when seeking answers to even simple questions. Our complex governance has resulted in confusion about who does what as well as too many areas of either overlap or duplication. ASK Salt Spring is an attempt to bridge silos by providing a consistent place Islanders can come to get the answers they need.
While the heart of ASK Salt Spring is its weekly gatherings, the email option (email@example.com) is also heavily-used. Reports of weekly gatherings are posted in the Salt Spring Exchange as well as on the Community Alliance website, accessible through asksaltspring.com as well. By this consistent flow of information, even those who have not participated in the conversations have the opportunity to learn from them.
ASK Salt Spring began with a bang on October 4 - a large, food-filled gathering to launch this innovative and experimental initiative. Forty-four guests came to this celebration in the room in the Florist Shop so generously-offered by Thrifty Foods. While no one knew exactly how this offering would evolve, there was much celebration that, after a year of planning, it was about to begin.
Gatherings began October 11, 2019, welcoming special guests each week:
The first Friday of the month: MLA Adam Olsen
Second: CRD’s Gary Holman
Third: Islands Trustee Laura Patrick, and
Fourth: Our Chamber’s Jessica Harkema and other special guests
Thrifty Florist Shop Community Room: ASK Salt Spring’s first year has been marked by seeking creative gathering options, so many interesting conversations, and some surprises.
With only a brief break at the holidays, gatherings were held every Friday from October 11 through March 6 in the Community Room of Thrifty’s Florist Shop. It was a wonderful location! We hope to return there when we no longer need to follow social-distancing protocols.
A Spring of Self-Isolation: To address lockdown requirements while also continuing to inform Salt Springers, questions were gathered each week for the elected official who had been scheduled to join us. Their answers were published in both the Driftwood and the Exchange, hopefully helping Islanders stay informed and in touch during those challenging times. Additionally, a series of Zoom meetings were held.
Summer Joys: In June, gatherings began outdoors in the Portlock Picnic Pavilion on rainy Fridays and under the apple trees in our lovely United Church Meadow on clear summer days. So many echoed Adam Olsen’s pleasure when he recently enthused, I love meeting in the Meadow!
The setting was perfect - and largely made possible by the seasonal insurance rate offered by CRD, a generous Island Savings Simple Generosity grant, a wonderful discount offered by Mouats to buy portable chairs, and the continuing Gift Card from Country Grocer to help defray costs for the safely-made chocolate chip cookies. Thank-you all!
Eventually, cold weather will make these lovely outdoor gatherings impractical. When fall overtakes us - and until an expected self-isolation order is given - Foxglove Nursery has generously offered to let us gather in their lovely greenhouse, with floor-to-ceiling doors at either end to make it as safe an indoor gathering that we can imagine. Thank-you Foxglove!
So, What Happens Each Friday?:
Expected as a drop-in opportunity to get quick answers and leave, Fridays have evolved into an opportunity for Islanders to gather, ask questions, listen to the questions of others, and participate in fascinating conversations. Surprisingly, many stay for the entire gathering - long after their question has been addressed - to listen and learn.
Despite the period of lockdown, a total of 574 (duplicated) Islanders participated between October 11, 2019 and September 18, 2020. Over a hundred Salt Springers have also gotten their answers through ask@asksaltspring. And, from the feedback, we also know that even more Islanders consistently read the weekly reports.
While it has become a running joke that most come only for the cookies, solution-seeking, respectful conversations have been wide-ranging and informative. Most prevalent topics have been concerns about roads, affordable housing, safety, health, and climate action.
An unexpected additional benefit is that some things are actually getting accomplished!
Connections: One clear benefit of ASK Salt Spring is that islanders have the opportunity to meet regularly with their elected officials in a casual, conversational format. This interaction has clearly benefited our island both in giving us essential information and getting our feedback but also in gaining advocacy for issues near to our hearts.
In addition to this clear benefit, a number of other strong connections have been forged with groups as diverse as Emcon, our Chamber of Commerce, Salt Spring Island Foundation, the BC Ferries Advisory Committee, Salt Spring Community Health Society, Salt Spring Health Advancement Network, Transition Salt Spring, and even Habitat for Humanity. (We might actually get a Restore!)
Conversations: One emerging role for ASK Salt Spring seems to be posing the questions needed to encourage other organizations to begin conversations. Some examples of this include:
Our Live Aboard residents now have the attention of the multi-jurisdictional decision-makers who can guide and help them. (Thanks, Adam!)
Planning for a conversation about possible inclusion in the Speculation and Vacancy Tax has begun.
The possibility of a reduced fare for youth on BC Ferries will be pursued.
A partnership between Emcon and the tireless invasive-species volunteers is being established.
The CRD Transportation Commission is beginning a discussion of Ganges accessibility, traffic calming, signage, and road safety markings.
And, we have just begun. . . .