The Atlantic Canada Great Ideas Exchange
Submitted by: Belle Hatfield, Yarmouth, NS
Perhaps nowhere in Atlantic Canada has felt the sting of outmigration than Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. In the last decade, the Town of Yarmouth has earned the dubious distinction of being on a top-ten list no community wants to end up on. It is one of the top ten fastest shrinking communities in Canada, having lost 10 per cent of its population. The loss of our international ferry link to the United States, coupled with a collapse in prices for lobsters only top the list of challenges the community is facing. But it faced an even deeper crisis. That was a crisis in faith. A crisis in confidence. Last October, the town elected a new mayor and council. Pamela Mood spoke on the campaign trail about the need for the community to seek its own solutions.
At the same time, Newspapers Atlantic announced the Georgetown Conference. We believed our community and our mayor were a good fit for a Georgetown-type redefinition. If we can turn Yarmouth around, any community can right itself.
The Yarmouth Vanguard’s approach to Georgetown was first to seed interest in several key people, including Yarmouth’s mayor and the head of the local farmers market and cooperative.
That happened in the spring. Since then we have been developing a made-in-Yarmouth Georgetown strategy that combined a community survey, conducted by the Vanguard, in concert with an All Hands on Deck community town hall meeting, held by the town’s mayor.
The questions in the survey were developed in concert with our Georgetown delegates. We began delivering the surveys the third week in August. We used our website as the main link, but also combined it with our Facebook page. We publicized the survey in our newspaper and online, but we also reached out to community groups and invited them to distribute the link to their distribution lists. Business groups, arts groups, politicians, sports organizations, social service agencies, health agencies – many, many groups directed their membership back to our web page and to the link. The survey was linked to the All Hands On Deck town hall meeting through its introduction and by its promise – which was to use the information gained from the survey to assist the community organizers behind the All Hands on Deck committee.
The online survey will come down Tuesday, Sept. 17 at midnight. Paper surveys will continue to be accepted for another week. To date we have had 632 responses. Of the 632 people who have taken part in the survey, 268 have not only said they want to help get Yarmouth ready for “When our Ship Comes in” but provided their contact information for Mayor Pam Mood’s All Hands on Deck committee to call upon.
The All Hands on Deck initiative drew nearly 500 people to the town’s arena for a brainstorming session, designed to elicit very practical initiatives that can be accomplished now with the resources we have. I spoke on behalf of the Georgetown initiative, introduced our delegates and made the connection between this local initiative and the broader scope of Georgetown. All Hands on Dec is Georgetown activated. It is about capacitating change by taking back power. We give power away when we wait for someone else to act. We take power back when we take control of the change we seek.
From that session the Mayor’s committee came away with 50 actionable ideas and more than 400 pledges of money, time or expertise to accomplish them.
Corporately, TC supported the initiative with free and sponsored advertising support.
Since Sept. 11, several citizen-led clean-up initiatives have been undertaken and more are in the works. Local retailers are stepping up with pledges of money and supplies.
Our delegates will be going forward to Georgetown with a measurable and tangible example of how to rally a community, provide leadership and support and extract from the community the latent capacity and desire to help that is in all of us.
We walked into that meeting as 500 individuals and emerged as a community.
The Yarmouth Vanguard
I have just uploaded a series of PDFs from the Vanguard newspaper. They document our Road to Georgetown initiative, which culminated with All Hands on Deck, Sept. 11 in Yarmouth. They are attached.