COLUMN: Programming for uncertainty at Alexandra House

For now, community programming at Alex House will be online only

There is no institution in our lives which has not been changed in a significant way because of the global pandemic. Whether it’s shopping, work, school, recreation, or just visiting friends and family, what we once hoped would be a temporary inconvenience is taking the shape of a way of life. At least for now.

There have been many effects of this health emergency. These effects tell the story in statistics – the number of jobs lost, the shrinkage in the economy, the costs to businesses, governments, and our health care system. But the effects also tell a personal story – an isolated senior unable to visit her grandchild; the son unable to attend the funeral of his father in another country, the server who loses their job.

As a community programmer, my job is to animate opportunities for neighbours to gather – particularly those at risk of greater social isolation, such as seniors and newcomer Canadians. But when social distancing is a health recommendation, how do we stay engaged with one another? How do we ensure that there are opportunities for people to participate and be visible in their communities?

When we entered Phase 1 of the health emergency in March, it was immediately clear that seniors and those with medical conditions would be the most adversely affected by the precautions. Activities like our knitting circle, monthly lunch, and monthly out-trips were cancelled. Some activities did open up online; but many older adults do not have access to the technology or knowledge to navigate online interactions. There is no easy answer to the challenge of opening up avenues of participation during a time of distancing.

What has been particularly heartening to me is how many have seen the challenges facing those who are isolating or quarantined at this time, and have stepped up to support. Our Community Caring Circle volunteers have made phone calls, picked up groceries, and driven people to appointments. Members of our two community gardens adopted plots to grow produce for the South Surrey Food Bank. Through Alex House and other organizations, neighbours have been there to support neighbours.

It was disappointing to cancel our annual May community festival, for the first time ever. The loss of our summer camps and weekly Neighbourhood Fun Nights has also been hard. We at Alex House have dared to get our hopes up about resuming, in some safe and limited way, one or two opportunities to gather neighbours together, as the health situation permits. All we know is that it isn’t safe now, and no one knows when it will be. And so we continue to program for uncertainty, monitoring the situation, waiting for signals from government – but also for the more nebulous ones from the people in our community, especially the volunteers, staff, families, seniors, youth, and others who make it happen, about what feels safe for them. I’d like to hear your thoughts – email me at

In the meantime, community programming at Alex House will resume in September; but it will initially be exclusively online. We are happy to announce our first online Lit Café will be happening on Monday, Sept. 21, from 7-9 pm. The theme is Biding and Abiding: Readings to Heal Body and Soul. I’ll be soliciting contributions from authors and poets who have joined us in the past, with a focus on works which can soothe us during these challenging times.

The link to join and biographies of the authors will be posted on our website,, and on our Facebook page, Alexandra Neighbourhood House.

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


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