Recognized with a 2017 Local Municipal Champions Award by the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association, this unique school-based hub is based on a partnership between the Grand Erie District School Board and the City of Brantford. The case study highlights the benefits, challenges and learnings of the community Hub in a priority neighbourhood in Brantford. The Major Ballachey Hub is located in a 700 square foot space in the lower level of a 100-year old public school and provides a range of accessible services for the school families and local East Ward community members. A community celebration marked the opening of the hub in June 2016.
Approximately 3,700 participants accessed the programs and supports in the hub in its first six months of operation! The Major Ballachey Hub schedules programs from 8:30 – 4:30 for in addition to providing specialized after-hours and weekend programming. After 4:30, the hub is used by Brantford Parks and Recreation and the Boys and Girls Club after 4:30 pm. As well, the hub operates in the summer months.
The Hub Lead
City of Brantford (City) – The City of Brantford is the operational lead for the Major Ballachey Hub. The City leases the space from the local School Board and is responsible for making the space available to other service providers. After 4:30 p.m. the Parks and Recreation Department provides programming at the Hub.
Grand Erie District School Board (School Board) – the School Board has entered a partnership with the City to provide the space at no cost to the Major Ballachey Hub.
Several program partners who use the space at the hub including City of Brantford Social Services and Parks and Recreation, Brant County Public Health, Brant Skills Centre, Woodview Mental Health and Autism Services, Parent and Family Literacy Centre, and the Boys and Girls Club.
Both hub partners share the same vision of what community hubs are meant to be and do. In this video, the City of Brantford describes a neighbourhood hub as a neutral space where residents can come together to engage in activities and experiences. They further note that hubs should be in walking distance for many residents, with a varied mix of services and activities, as per the input of local residents and neighbourhood associations.
The Grand Erie District School Board supports the creation of hubs as a means to engage families and community members in local schools, to support the academic achievement of the children and youth and as an important pathway to community-building.
These shared values led to agreement on the goals for the Major Ballachey Hub, including:
- Supporting local access to service providers and agencies
- Positioning schools as welcoming and positive places for the broader community
- Providing space for community programs
- Creating a physical location in the neighbourhood to build awareness and use of the hub
- Building on the strategic partnership between the City and the School Board
This section highlights interesting or unique elements of the journey to develop and operate the hub, rather than a comprehensive, beginning to end, story.
The Hub Development and Financing
The City of Brantford has a long-standing interest in supporting communities and neighbourhoods. In 2008, it approved a community development model for its Parks and Recreation Department based on a network of neighbourhood associations. In 2012, the Social Services Department launched a neighbourhood hubs program and designated two priority neighbourhoods, one of which was in the East Ward, where the Major Ballachey School is located. The City then began researching neighbourhood hubs and in 2013 recommended that discussions proceed with the School Board about potential hub partnerships and the use and redevelopment of unused space in schools, in what they term ‘target neighbourhoods’.
Similarly, efforts were underway at some local schools in the Grand Erie District School Board to connect with parents and families and support them in accessing services. One elementary school worked with the city to undertake a demographic analysis and to engage families in exploring needs within the community. Meeting space was limited so the principal hosted meetings in the school until a portable was made available for the neighbourhood group meetings, activities and other services. The principal at the time, Monique Goold, of the Grand Erie District School Board, observed that these early hub efforts proven beneficial through “increasing parent involvement in the school as well as their trust in and knowledge of service providers … with a focus on helping the local community.”
A number of people involved have reflected that the timing was perfect; the City and the School Board leaders had become increasingly interested in hubs – at the same time! Discussions between the two groups led to identifying available hub space in the lower level of Major. According to Goold, both the Director of Education and the Superintendent were very supportive of the hub idea but “convincing the finance people and the officials responsible for risk and liability assessment in the School Board was much harder.” Finally, in the Fall 2015, the City and the School Board negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding setting out the preliminary considerations for using and sharing equipment, supplies and space, in addition to rights and responsibilities, and a process for conflict resolution. Both parties agreed to work together on the formal legal agreement and open the hub in 2016.
Brantford City Council “was completely committed to the concept of neighbourhood development” and saw the hub as an essential part of the corporate strategic plan for the city. Seemingly everyone recognized how hubs, as a service delivery model, “could accelerate positive change in other areas such as for education levels, community safety and improved health outcomes,” comments Brantford’s Director Strategic Planning, Aaron Wallace.
The final agreement included two components:
- A Formal Agreement setting out responsibilities, security, insurance, health and safety, etc.
- A User Agreement setting out the hours of operation and other details regarding use of the space
The costs for preparing hub occupancy within the 700 square foot hub were shared between the partners: the School Board funded the renovations to the space from their facilities budget and the City paid for the furniture, equipment and other program materials from their operating budget.
Relationship between the Partners
The Grand Erie District School Board, the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board and the City of Brantford have a history of working together in what Kathryn Underwood, Community Use of Schools Coordinator at the Grand Erie District School Board describes as a “unique partnership.” Two schools (each operated by one of the boards mentioned above) share access to gymnasiums and program space in a community centre which is physically located between the two schools. The City takes over the space in the evenings when it offers recreational and community programs. The City and the two school boards also have a Joint Use of Facilities Agreement in place that allows schools access to City recreation facilities and the City access to schools rent free with only direct costs being charged.
The relationship between the School Board and the City at Major Ballachey School is also unique, akin a landlord-tenant type relationship. The City is responsible for the hub space and for determining which services, organizations and groups use the space. It must provide insurance ($10 million worth) that covers all the users that access the space and it is responsible for additional costs including phones, furniture and equipment, marketing, and managing and programming in the hub. Otherwise, the School Board covers costs related to heat, hydro and custodial services that are generally charged to the groups using their space.
Operating the Hub
The Hub has its own entrance, about 30 to 40 feet from the main doors to the school, highlighted by a sign saying ‘Welcome to the Community Hub’. The door is locked at all times and there is a security camera and buzzer for people to request access. Visitors walk down six steps to the internal hub door. A second security camera focuses on the stairs and hub entrance door. An elevator is currently being installed and in January 2018 the space will be fully accessible.
The hub is designed as open program space with modular furniture. It includes a kitchen, a ‘learning commons’ with computers and other equipment, and program and meeting space.
The Hub was designed to support school and community families with information, service access and referrals, and other social opportunities. The range of programs and services offered at the hub includes: Ontario Works, homelessness prevention, access to housing, referrals for child care subsidy, temporary care allowance, social and employment services, health and wellness programs, and recreation programs. The hub also offers cooking programs, adult life skills programs, mental health supports, resume writing, and computer and internet workshops. Some of the programs are municipal programs delivered at the Hub; others are provided by local community agencies.
The School Board has a Community Use of Schools Program that supports local communities by making school space available after school and on weekends on a permit-basis to approved organizations, community and user groups. As well, the Ministry of Education provides funding to school boards to make school space more affordable for local nonprofits and community groups.
The agreement between the City and School Board is separate from the Community Use of Space program and gives responsibility and authority to the City to determine and manage use of the space, including approving any service providers and community groups using the space. However, the terms of the agreement require that online permit applications must be submitted by the City to the School Board for all uses, programs and activities in the hub (as with the CUS program). In this way, the applications give the School Board information on who is using the space, while not requiring School Board approval. Some permits are ongoing, for multiple uses by a service provider, and others are for one-time only. For example, the Boys and Girls Club, which operates out of another space in the school through a pre-existing Community Use of Schools permit, must have City approval to use hub space and a separate permit must be submitted.
As well, the school and/or School Board must submit a permit application to the City if they wish to use the hub space. The school “used it a lot in the early days,” according to Mark Fraser, the current Principal of Major Ballachey Elementary School. These days, however, the hub it is busier and is less available to the school.
Several hub programs are listed on a City of Brantford webpage under the title Neighbourhood Learning Series, which also links to the Parent Council on Major Ballachey’s website. Community members sign up for services in advance – there are no open drop-in programs except for Ontario Works which has designated drop-in times for ongoing program participants.
The school also provides space to two service providers in Major Ballachey – the Wish Closet and the Parent Family and Literacy Centre program. As well, the School Board delivers classes, independent of the school, in other lower level space. Because of the physical set-up of the school, these programs have their own entrances with a similar security set-up as the Hub. Community members must leave and re-enter through a different service entrance to access another service provider or staff must accompany them to the other location.
Neighbourhood Development Coordination Role
As part of its neighbourhood development strategy, the City of Brantford provides two staff members who share the shared responsibility for overseeing Major Ballachey hub, in addition to three other hubs located within City recreation centres. These coordinators alternate their time at each hub based on program scheduling; they’re also responsible for the programming, approval of permit requests, and for all business related to communications and hub marketing.
Although the municipality funded a full-time position in early 2017 through the Recreation department, hub staffing is also supported through municipal service contracts which are subject to change, and which allow only a portion of the employee’s time to focus on hub activities. “It’s the best we can do,” comments Aaron Wallace, Director of Strategic Planning for the City of Brantford, because “there is no where to get operational dollars” to fund these positions.
Hub and Service Providers
During the design and renovation stages, the City of Brantford put out an informal call to service providers to gauge interest in hub participation. Several parties, referred to as “early adopters” by Wallace, immediately signaled interest. Expressions of interest were assessed based on level of interest, alignment with hub directives and mandates, and how well a proposed program reflected the needs and desires of community members.
Wallace says that the Hub is “primarily focused on partner programming” and that there are plans to engage more service partners, like the Ontario Early Years Centre in the hub in the future. Some other service providers, like the Parent Family Literacy Centre and Brant County Public Health, have partnered together to delivery programs at the hub.
Hub and Local Community
The June 2016 opening celebration of the major Ballachey Hub received much positive attention from the media and the local community. The momentum has continued with the promotion of hub services at Parent Council meetings, a presentation to the Major Ballachey teachers, a promotional table at Parent School Nights and participation in school fairs and other activities. The local Neighbourhood Association shares their ideas for programs or activities with the staff coordinators.
While a community advisory or committee does not yet exist, the hub does consult with agencies, outside organizations and community members through ongoing community development meetings or visioning sessions, such as with Idea Jams. As well, hub participants are asked to complete a feedback survey.
Access to the School Building & Security
Access to the school and ensuring that it is a safe and secure learning environment for children is an ongoing priority for the school and the School Board. The processes put in place, including the buzzer system and security cameras have improved security, nonetheless security remains a concern for the school.
Despite the security processes for service providers that the need to pre-book appointments and registrations and monitor the hub entry, the partners have developed a workable solution given the physical restrictions of the space.
The community hubs evaluation framework developed by the City includes three main elements:
- Capacity building (leadership and sustainability in communities)
- Access to services and referrals (educational, recreational and health promotion services)
- Community engagement (through the provision of physical and intellectual space to build neighbourhood assets and respond to needs)
Every person who comes into the hub is asked to complete a one-page evaluation. This helps track the number of new people accessing the hub and collects data on why they use it. There is also the question of whether people use the hub as a gateway to other services; early estimates after the first year of operation show that about 900 people were referred by the hub to other programs and service providers.
Their evaluation framework includes outcomes, indicators and measures based on the overall Neighbourhood Development Initiative and incorporates statistics, participant feedback and anecdotal evidence.
Benefits And Value Added
The community surrounding the Major Ballachey School is not well served by transit, and it’s difficult for residents to learn about and access services elsewhere in Brantford. As identified in the evaluation, one of the major benefits of the hub is that residents can easily access services, be referred to other supports, and participate in the learning centre. “Bringing services into the community that are accessible within the building” is a key benefit, according to Principal Mark Fraser. The hub has a positive impact on residents’ quality of life and wellness. Kathryn Underwood, one of Fraser’s School Board colleagues, agrees that the hub “provides supportive programs” and is a “wonderful facility.”
In the past, residents were reluctant to ask for help and “uncomfortable about coming into a school setting for services, but once they came into the hub and saw the programming, they were pleasantly surprised,” reflected David Vujasinovich, a Neighbourhood Development Coordinator for the City of Brantford. Today, many residents are accessing hub services and programs; parents are connecting with each other outside the programs and building a genuine sense of community. Vujasinovich explained that “parents came back to ask ‘how can we create our own programming?’ and ‘how can I share my interests with others?’” As the hub becomes a more established part of the community and trust levels increase, the expectation is that more parents will participate in school-based activities.
Hubs are also an important part of a broader City of Bradford Neighbourhood Development Strategy which includes a learning series (courses and workshops) offered by a range of service providers including city-run programs. In partnership with Wilfrid Laurier University, the City of Brantford has developed a Neighbourhood Changemakers Program that provides a no-cost university certificate to residents interested in developing projects and services in their Neighbourhoods. This unique program includes working directly with university faculty on project design, budgeting and implementation. To date, over 40 residents have graduated from the Changemakers program. The Brantford also operates a number of ‘Micro-Hubs’ that promote enhanced health and skill development at affordable housing sites in the city.
Hubs are important to the changing role of schools in neighbourhoods. As stated by Principal Mark Fraser, “it is beneficial to have the Hub in the school.” Neighbourhood Coordinator David Vujasinovich agrees, saying that school-based hubs are increasingly “being seen as valuable community space for families, youth and seniors …” and part of a “shared school-family culture.”
Lessons Learned and Advice
The hub is based on a relationship between the local municipality and the School Board that is focused on the East Ward community and the Major Ballachey school. The agreement between the two partners allowed the City to then enter into additional relationships with service providers including the County, Public Health, the City Parks and Recreation as well as community based service providers including the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Boys and Girls Club. The relationships that the school and hub have with the local community have strengthened as a result.
The Hub was championed by the City and supported by the School Board, yet it still took time to negotiate the terms of the partnership. While it certainly helped that these partners shared a similar vision at the same point in time, the processes involved in reaching an official agreement on how things would look and run was affected by such things as turnover of staff in key roles.
One of the key challenges in developing this hub was its small physical space and location in a still-functioning school. The need for rigorous security has impacted access and flow within the space and also how it can be used by partners at any given time. While this may not be as central an issue in other hubs (especially in which schools or other buildings are empty and set to be retrofitted for community use), understanding space restrictions and security considerations is nonetheless extremely important when planning a hub in specific types of environments, as in this case.
Neighbourhood schools are natural gathering places for the community. While the Major Ballachey School was already home to a community Wish Closet and a Parenting and Family Literacy Centre, adding the hub was a natural next step. The timing and alignment of the City and School Board’s interest in this hub development, and its consequent creation, has greatly enhanced existing services and community life.