Word last month that business would be getting back to usual at Kent Street Activity Centre was welcomed by many seniors, and particularly those for whom the White Rock facility had become, pre-pandemic, an integral part of their lives.
“We were ecstatic getting the news (of the reopening),” said Jerry Osier, past-president of the centre’s snooker club and the first centre member through the doors on Sept. 13.
“To come back and not only see our friends and acquaintances, and have the social contact, but also to play snooker and the competition and camaraderie that goes with that. We all missed it a great deal.”
The City of White Rock closed the centre – along with White Rock Community Centre, Centennial Arena and the Centre for Active Living – in mid-March last year, due to COVID-19 concerns. The decision came on the heels of an order from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to cancel all gatherings of 50 or more people.
Closing was “a difficult decision to make,” city recreation co-ordinator Dianne Sawicki wrote in her Peace Arch News column at the time, “however, the health and safety of our residents and employees is the city’s top concern.”
The news threw many for a loop, as it effectively put the brakes on their social lives, with no definitive end in sight.
“In March 2020, nobody really knew what was going to happen or how extensive it would be,” said Osier. “Nobody envisioned it would keep going as long as it did, with so many people contracting the disease and so on and so forth.”
That all began to change a few months ago, when the province announced and began putting into action its restart plan. On the schedule was a September start to removing most of remaining pandemic-related restrictions and reopening doors to programs and activities.
At Kent Street, that has meant a return of not only snooker, but also everything from afternoon card games and carpet bowling, to woodcarving and computer club, as well as the sing-along and theatre groups.
Being able to once again offer the opportunities for seniors to engage “came as a welcomed relief for all of us,” Sawicki said Tuesday (Sept. 28).
“It was tough to know that many Kent Street members were so isolated from the pandemic,” she said. “We have missed the steady sounds of laughter and conversations, the clinking of the snooker balls from down the hall and all the programs and activities that bring people together.”
Neville Beck said he particularly appreciates that indoor table tennis is back on the table.
“When you get old, have to stay active and fit if you want to live to 100,” Beck quipped.
While Beck said he found ways to keep active while the centre was closed – including by routinely playing outdoor table tennis following installation of a concrete table and pad on the centre’s property late last year – he is “very happy to get it back open.”
Longtime centre member Loretta Holmes (mother of PAN reporter Tracy Holmes) was also among those who found ways to fill some of the gaps left when access was cut off to the centre. In addition to learning outdoor table tennis, she and fellow dance-loving members June Stuart and Peggy Wohlberg began meeting in the centre’s parking lot for socially distanced line dancing.
Word of the idea spread quickly and soon, the trio found themselves joined by many others eager for the activity and camaraderie.
Still, “I’m happy to be back,” Holmes said, of the revived centre access.
“I’ve been going there since I was about 55. It keeps me socially active and keeps me involved with people.”
Stuart described the centre as her “second home, even with COVID,” and an important resource for many – one she’d love to see expanded to keep up with White Rock’s older demographic.
For now, capacity limits are in place, and not all activities and programs have returned. Sawicki recommended checking online, at whiterockcity.ca/seniors to confirm what is available.
As well, per the recent health order, masks must be worn indoors and proof of vaccination is required for entry.
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