COLUMN: Building community without gathering

As with so many of you, the sudden public health restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic came as a slowly unfolding shock. Over the course of a week and a half, my own little world was turned upside down by events in the bigger one we all share.

As Alex House’s community programmer, my job is to gather people together in order to reduce social isolation, increase participation, and so build a healthier and stronger community, one neighbourhood at a time. But when people can’t gather, how is community possible? Community is not only possible at a time like this, it is more vital than ever.

We are quickly discovering just how much we rely on one another for support and caring in difficult times. I’m reminded of my parents and their generation; who lived through relief camps, ration cards, and loved ones killed on foreign shores. And through those times, the best of humanity shone through – whether it was in scrap metal drives, victory gardens, or neighbour networks to support the bereaved.

Like so many other organizations, Alex House has quickly mobilized for action. We have established Community Caring Circles to provide support for those who are self-isolating due to travel or exposure, age, or a medical condition. Volunteers are assigned to six-person helper teams, who recruit or are referred to individuals needing support to remain at home.

That support could be picking up groceries or prescriptions, mailing a letter, walking the dog, or just making a friendly phone call. This service is available to residents of Surrey and White Rock, living south of Highway 10 and west of Highway 15.

If you need help, or would like to offer your time to support your neighbours to remain home, find out more and apply at

Our two community gardens have stepped up to provide assistance to Sources Food Bank during a time of increased need. A dozen of our plots have been repurposed to grow produce to share with neighbours. If you’d like to support your neighbours’ nutritional needs, check out

How can you help build community during a time of self-isolation?

Maybe you have an idea for an online concert or webinar. Maybe you want to organize a food bank drive for your neighbourhood. Maybe you want to create online coffee chats. We are repurposing our Neighbourhood Small Grants program to support projects which respond to the challenges of COVID-19. All proposed projects must respect the guidelines around gathering and social distancing. Projects are eligible for up to $500 in support.

Go to to find out more and apply.

Friends, stay safe during this time; and – like you – I look forward to a time when we may gather in person again!

Neil Fernyhough is manager of Alexandra Neighbourhood House’s community programs. For information on programs or services at Camp Alexandra, call 604-535-0015 or go to


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Go Fund Me campaign for family of CN rail worker who died at Thornton Yard in Surrey

Jasvinder Singh Riar, 31, died while at work at the Canadian National Railway Thornton Yard in North Surrey early Monday morning

South Surrey seniors home ends outdoor class after complaints from neighbour

‘Everybody has a right, and they don’t have a right to infringe on us,’ a neighbour said

After delay, ‘Metro Vancouver’s Largest Indoor Amusement Park’ set to open in Surrey

At Central City Fun Park, ‘things will be a little different than what we had originally planned’

COVID-19: Daily update on pandemic in Surrey, White Rock and beyond

JUNE 3: Threat of fines quashes South Surrey seniors’ daily workouts

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

If Trudeau won’t stand up to Trump, how will regular people: Singh

Trudeau did not directly answer a question about Trump’s actions amid protests

Highway 1 closed north of Yale after body found on highway

Coroners Service reportedly on the scene, next Drive BC update at noon

Teen cashier praised after paying grocery bill for Aldergrove woman

Otter Co-op’s Brooklyn Roberts asked to pay Tamara Smith’s $44 grocery bill after debit card declined

As two B.C. offices see outbreaks, Dr. Henry warns tests don’t replace other measures

Physical distancing, PPE and sanitizing remain key to reduce COVID-19 spread

Young killer whale untangles itself from trap line off Nanaimo shore

DFO marine mammal rescue unit was en route as whale broke free from prawn trap line

Racist incident shocks Vancouver Island First Nation

Port Alberni RCMP investigating after video shows truck wheeling through Tseshaht territory

Vancouver Island school principal mourns brother, cousin killed during U.S. protests

Jelks says he’s grateful for the outpouring of support from the community in the wake of this tragedy

Bank of Canada keeps key interest rate target on hold at 0.25%

Central bank now expects GDP to decline between 10 and 20 per cent compared with the fourth quarter of 2019

RCMP, coroner investigate murder-suicide on Salt Spring Island

Two dead, police say there is no risk to the public

Most Read

l -->