Watercolour workshop participants watching the teacher

Building Community Through Neighbourhood Small Grants

The Neighbourhood Small Grants (NSG) program, which is co-funded locally by Victoria Foundation and Vancouver Foundation, is designed to engage and connect people at the neighbourhood level by supporting activities that lead to stronger connections. In Greater Victoria, the NSG program has been funding projects in four core neighbourhoods, Quadra Village, North Park, Burnside Gorge, and Oaklands for a number of years. Residents living outside these core areas are also welcome to apply, as funding may be available for their innovative and engaging projects.

Starting From a Place of Yes

Each NSG application is reviewed by a committee of local citizens. “The way these neighbourhood small grants work is the decision-making power sits right within the community,” explained Tanya Chassé, Strategic Initiatives Coordinator with the Victoria Foundation. “When that review committee is looking at the group of applications that have come in for the funding, they start from a place of yes. It’s about finding ways to connect people, so they’ll look at how they can help the project find success.”

The grant application process is designed to make it easy for anyone to apply. Individuals with an idea for their community can work with the local coordinator to complete the grant application. The funding requests range from $50 to $500, some of which can be used to pay an honorarium where appropriate.

Following the event, the project leaders are asked to share a short story and photos or videos of the activity, which is then shared online to inspire future leaders to plan their own activities and submit their applications, leading to more events, more community, and stronger connections.

Engaging Youth

With so many great events and activities made possible through the NSG program, choosing a favourite might be challenging. But events created by or for youth tend to stand out. “The Kids Open Mic night at Spiral Café in VicWest was fantastic,” said Tanya. “The adults arranged for a group of elementary and middle school musicians, performers, and comedians to come together in a coffee shop. Professional performers were hired to play with the students, and they put on a concert together, singing or playing their instruments with professionals in a professional setting. It was a phenomenal experience.”

“Thank you for welcoming us to join your lovely open mic yesterday. It was really heartwarming to see the kids perform and how much everyone was enjoying it! … What a wonderful neighbourhood you live in and what a joyful music community you’ve created!” – Email from an observer

Finally!” Parties

At the end of the first year of the pandemic, there was a collective sigh of release as people felt more comfortable stepping outside of their bubbles to engage and interact with each other again. This inspired Queen — a Quadra Village resident who immigrated to Canada sixteen years ago for adventure and to meet new people — to develop a series of “Finally!” parties for the community. “When we started getting together again, I was like, ‘Finally!’ and then I realized that everyone has Finally! stories, such as celebrating a graduation, moving out from your parents, a new job, or whatever. It’s fun and helpful to come together over an afternoon tea with goodies, talking about whatever your Finally! is.”

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Richard Wong’s artistic career didn’t start until after he had retired from his role with the provincial government. A gift of art supplies from his spouse led to some introductory art classes, where he learned Western watercolour techniques, followed by a Chinese brush class, where he discovered a completely different style. After a few years of study, he created his own approach to blend the two types, and soon after, was asked to be an instructor. “My whole art career,” explained Richard, “was not planned at all. It’s one of those things. After I enrolled in art classes, this whole thing just took off.”

To share his passion with the community, Richard applied for and received funding to host art classes in the Quadra Village Community Centre. “My basis for teaching is to enjoy it and to have fun,” said Richard. “Then they need to be patient and kind to themselves because learning is what it is. You don’t get it overnight. It’s one of those things that evolves over time and practice.”

Through two sessions of twenty students each, Richard has helped a wide range of community members, from children as young as six to octogenarians who want to learn more about painting with watercolours. “It was a full range, which I love because that’s what art is about. There’s something for everyone.” In addition to hosting the painting classes, Richard was invited to share a condensed version of his art classes in the breakout sessions of the recent 2023 Neighbourhood Small Grants Island Network Summit.

What Does Community Mean to You?

Province-wide, NSG is offered in partnership with the Vancouver Foundation in communities from Fort St. John and Haida Gwaii to southern areas like Victoria and Salt Spring Island. Each community has a local coordinator and committee. And each community is part of a regional network that shares learnings and ideas. The Victoria Foundation is the co-lead of the Islands NSG Network along with Clayoquot Biosphere Trust who coordinates the program in Tofino.

If you’d like to find ways to create better, stronger connections in your community, visit NeighbourhoodSmallGrants.ca for inspiration. There are success stories about community food support programs that rescue food and redistribute it to those who need it; community gardens that ensure everyone has access to the resources and support to help them grow their own food; musical events, like singing in the streets, where participation trumps talent; and many other events. Create a plan for an event or activity in your neighbourhood, then apply for $50 – $500 towards the event and help your community thrive and grow.