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The Shelldale Centre, Guelph

September 4, 2018 • 34 min read

Background | Hub Partners | The Vision | The Journey | Benefits & Value Added | Lessons Learned & Advice

Shelldale Hub exterior


The Shelldale Centre has strong roots in the Onward Willow community in Guelph, Ontario.  It was originally developed by local residents and supported by key service providers.   This case study explores the growth and evolution of the Shelldale Centre and the many organizations and groups that have shaped and supported its development over the years.

In 1990, a group of concerned neighbours came together to provide supports and community development in the Onward Willow community. Onward Willow was a high priority community that was physically separated from services in central Guelph. These residents eventually formed one of the first neighbourhood groups in Guelph.

Better Beginnings, Better Futures was a project initiated in 1991 by the Onward Willow residents and it became the core onto which many other services and supports were added over time.

Family & Children’s Services became its sponsor and the University of Guelph its academic partner. Family & Children’s Services made space available to Better Beginnings, Better Futures and acted as their flow-through agency (or trustee) for many years. Better Beginnings, Better Futures became part of a 25-year longitudinal research demonstration project funded by the Ontario government to look at the effectiveness of prevention policies and programs on children.

Initially programs were offered out of a townhouse in the community.  This space was not sufficient to meet the need and so a new location in the community was secured close to the existing elementary school for the Better Beginnings, Better Futures program. The new community space was called the Family Gateway and included an office available for use on a rotating basis by different partner organizations.

Onward Willow Neighbourhood Group took over the townhouse, and offered programming at the Family Gateway site including children’s programs, breakfast club, afterschool programs, and a summer camp.

Onward Willow Better Beginnings, Better Futures and its partners also outgrew the second space. When the local school was declared vacant in 1999, the Better Beginnings, Better Futures project indicated an interest in relocating to the school site. They recognized the benefits of working together with others to serve the community and thus the idea for a ‘hub’ began to grow.

Negotiations ensued, and the school was eventually sold to the City of Guelph, which sold it to Family & Children’s Services.  In 2001, Family & Children’s Services established Shelldale Community Centres to assume ownership of the school property. This nonprofit evolved into Kindle Communities Inc.,  with a nonprofit mandate to support space needs of community organizations serving children and families.

In late 2001, Better Beginnings, Better Futures and other partners including Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, Family & Children’s Services, Women in Crisis, Guelph Police Services and others moved into the renovated space that became known as the Shelldale Centre.  A General Manager was hired by Kindle and over time formal partnership agreements were negotiated with the various service and community partners.

The Shelldale Centre expanded in 2006 with a new addition for the Guelph Community Health Centre (CHC).

In 2015 the relationship between Onward Willow Neighbourhood Group and Better Beginnings, Better Futures was redefined. The Better Beginnings, Better Futures is now known as Shelldale BBBF and is separately incorporated.

The Shelldale Centre celebrated their 16th anniversary in 2017!

Hub Partners

The Lead Partners

Shelldale Better Beginnings, Better Futures (BBBF) – Shelldale Better Beginnings, Better Futures celebrated its 25th anniversary in the Onward Willow community in 2016.  Until 2015, the organization was connected to the Onward Willow Neighbourhood Association, but the two are now separate organizations.  (Shelldale BBBF was formerly called Onward Willow BBBF.)

 The Better Beginnings, Better Futures initiative was introduced in 1989 by the provincial government to look into ways of building community, supporting the healthy development of young children and strengthening families.


Family & Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County (F&CS) – Family & Children’s Services has been involved in the Shelldale community and in supporting community engagement and development efforts since the beginning. In the early years, it sponsored the Better Beginnings, Better Futures program and in 1998, it opened a satellite office next to Family Gateway.

In 2001, the school board sold the unused school building to the City of Guelph, which in turn sold the building to Family & Children’s Services. Family & Children’s Services established Shelldale Community Centres Inc. (now Kindle Communities Inc.) to manage their assets including the school building. Family & Children’s Services played a lead role in supporting the efforts of residents and community groups to develop a centre at Shelldale.  Family & Children’s Services continued to provide community development support to Shelldale and other communities until 2009, when they lost funding for these initiatives.

Family & Children’s Services rents space in the Shelldale Centre for its staff/programs and has staff who are actively involved in supporting different aspects of the Onward Willow community.  They partner with others to support neighbourhoods and continue to advocate for sustainable funding for neighbourhood groups in Guelph.

Kindle Communities Inc. (Kindle) – Established by Family & Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County in 2001 to hold its assets, including the Shelldale Centre.  Originally called Shelldale Community Centres Inc., it changed its name to signal that it would develop and manage properties and space used by other community and nonprofit groups serving children.  Kindle, a socially responsible nonprofit landlord, owns and manages two residential houses for youth, as well as the Shelldale Centre.

Other Partners

Guelph Community Health Centre (GCHC) – In 1993, the Guelph Community Health Centre joined the Family Gateway as a partner and in 2006, the Health Centre opened a new satellite location attached to Shelldale.  For many years they have been engaged and active supporters of the community and the Shelldale Centre.

Shelldale Centre Partners – Current partners in the ‘hub’ include Guelph Community Health Centre, Play Sense (Hopewell Children’s Homes), Immigrant Services, Lutherwood, CMHA Waterloo Wellington, Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health, Family & Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County and Shelldale Better Beginnings, Better Futures.

Onward Willow Neighbourhood Group – This neighbourhood group, founded in 1990 by community members, was instrumental in developing and bringing services to the community.

Early meetings were held in kitchens and the first children’s program was offered out of the trunk of a car. Working closely with Family & Children’s Services it obtained funding for Better Beginnings, Better Futures which supported programming in the townhouse (Guelph’s first physical community space), the subsequent Family Gateway space and, finally, the Shelldale Centre.

The Neighbourhood Group has been located in a townhouse, the Onward Willow Centre, provided by the County of Wellington since 1991.  It now receives funding and support from the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition.

City of Guelph (City) – In 2001, the City of Guelph purchased the Shelldale School from the school board and sold it to Family & Children’s Services.  Guelph introduced the Sustainable Neighbourhood Engagement Framework in 2010, which set out a new way for supporting neighbourhoods in the future.  The Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition was established as an independent organization to both develop and support neighbourhoods and communities and to distribute City funding to groups based on agreements and defined processes.

County of Wellington (County) – The County provides a townhouse in the Shelldale community for the Onward Willow Neighbourhood Group.

Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition (GNSC) – Established in 2012 to support neighbourhood groups, GNSC staff help neighbourhood groups with hiring, mediation, staff support, strategic development, and problem solving.

The Coalition also distributes City of Guelph neighbourhood funding based on a formal agreement with the City. Representatives from neighbourhood groups, including Onward Willow, sit on a Neighbourhood Panel that meets six times per year.  There is also a Partner Panel for service organizations including Family & Children’s Services, City of Guelph, Guelph Police Service, Guelph Community Health Centre, Immigrant Services, and the County of Wellington.

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The Vision

In the early 1990s, the Onward Willow community was a poorly served, low income, newcomer settlement neighbourhood in the largely middle class city of Guelph.  Growing attention to access and equity issues in communities, the availability of an unused school building, a group of committed residents and community service partners, and the philosophy of developing relationships and communities at Family & Children’s Services came together in what was described as a “perfect storm” by David Thornley, former Executive Director at the Community Health Centre.  The conditions were right for demonstrating commitment and leadership in the Onward Willow community.

The vision was to create a viable, supportive community that connected residents to each other and to services, a family or network of support.   Sheila Markle, Executive Director of Family & Children’s Services talks about a “network of supports for people.” The welcoming, multi-service Shelldale Centre provides the focus to bring together the community and service providers. Shelldale holds picnics and get-togethers as well as providing formal service delivery.  There’s “no place like this,” according to Lorri Sauvé, former Executive Director of Better Beginnings, Better Futures, “everything is in one spot – it is the best way of providing supports and services to families and children.”

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The Journey

This section highlights interesting or unique elements of the journey to develop and operate the hub, rather than a comprehensive, beginning to end, story.

Local Champions

The early commitment by Family & Children’s Services and others to the Onward Willow community was very important to the development of the Family Gateway and the later development of Shelldale Centre.  Family & Children’s Services sponsored the Better Beginnings, Better Futures program, leased the space for the program and their willingness to assume the mortgage for the school was “huge.” According to Lorri Sauvé “they were the community champion.”

Despite some community opposition to service providers moving into the community, the Mayor and City Council were very supportive of the hub concept, purchased the unused Shelldale School and resold it at a nominal amount to Family & Children’s Services. Service providers demonstrated their commitment to the community and the Shelldale Centre by leasing space and working with the community.

Relationships between Service Providers and with the Community

As noted earlier, Family & Children’s Services established Shelldale Community Centre Inc. when they purchased the school building from the City of Guelph in 2001. When the Shelldale Centre opened in late 2001, it became home to 12 different groups.  It is “quite an active centre” according to Sheila Markle of Family & Children’s Services with primary health care, mental health supports, immigrant services, teen moms programs, employment supports, public health, and programs for children and adults who have a disability.

The Shelldale Community Centre Inc. hired a General Manager to act as the liaison between the organizations, develop partnerships and manage the facility.  Because the community was concerned their collective voice would be less influential in the new centre, the General Manager also had to engage and encourage ongoing contributions of the community and residents.  Dana Nuttley, a Chair of the Board of Directors of Better Beginnings, Better Futures remembers that initially some community members were concerned about the types of services coming into the neighbourhood, like the Police and Public Health, and how this would affect the culture of the community.

Two partner agreements were negotiated: a Lease Agreement and a Partnership Agreement. It took about two years to negotiate the wording of the Partnership Agreement, which set out the roles, responsibilities and decision-making processes for the centre, and then to negotiate for the partners to sign it. The agreement included a requirement for new tenants to make presentations to a Shelldale Partners and Community Members Committee about the benefits they would bring to the community if they located at Shelldale.  The agreement also stipulated regular meetings, and a 2-1 ratio for community members and professionals on all Shelldale committees.  Kate Bishop, the former General Manager of Kindle, described the partner relationship as “intentional’ and about “bringing people together”, based on an assumption that all members of the community – service provider or resident – can contribute.  Erin Harvey, a Director at Family & Children’s Services reflected that “collaboration is messy and it takes time, but it is fundamental to relationships and growing a strong community hub.”

A change came about in 2008 when Bishop left Kindle and the General Manager role was eliminated. Kindle continues to support the Centre, and organizes bi-monthly meetings of partners through the Shelldale Coordinating Committee. These meetings focus on information sharing, building management, and relationships between the service partners. The Centre receives support through Kindle and from Family & Children’s Services staff who support Kindle.

Kindle also supports the Shelldale Centre by providing common services such as reception, cleaning and property management services. Kindle needs to cover its costs, but tries to keep rents below market rents while keeping the building well maintained (a recent maintenance study identified the need for a new roof!).  Funding is often a challenge and some service providers, including Better Beginnings, Better Futures, have difficulty accessing adequate funding for rent and administration.

The role of the community in the management of the Shelldale Centre has also evolved.  Community members have relationships with individual service providers, a local resident is Chair of the Board of Directors for Better Beginnings, Better Futures, and service providers engage community members in planning and other initiatives.  The Shelldale Centre plans many community events and activities, and engages and makes space available to local residents, however, residents are not directly involved in the ongoing management and operation of the Shelldale Centre.


The Shelldale Centre offers the advantage of connecting families to each other and to other service providers however the systems aren’t integrated and information isn’t shared between providers about how the family or individual is being supported.  In the early years of the Centre, information about clients was shared informally but this is no longer possible because of confidentiality regulations.  While this has been recognized as a challenge to more effective service delivery, it is also an opportunity for future collaboration.

Recently, there has been talk among the partners about coming together to creating a shared vision and moving from co-located service provision to greater collaboration.  There may also be some interest in developing community and hub metrics and using that learning to inform hub planning and decision-making.  Unfortunately, some partners have experienced “a loss of flexibility due to tighter funding and accountability requirements” according to David Thornley, and this may constrain opportunities for innovation and community-oriented partnerships.

Community Voice

The role, voice and involvement of the community in the Shelldale Centre has evolved over time.  In research conducted in the early 2000’s, the Centre was described as “having about half of its space used … for community-run initiatives and informal activities.” Currently, the community accesses the common reception area where coffee and water is available, the gym which is also available to service partners, while the remaining space is leased to service providers.

The separation of the Better Beginnings, Better Futures program from the Onward Willow Neighbourhood Group in 2015 was a challenging process that had an impact on the longstanding relationship.  A partnership agreement was developed that described roles and responsibilities moving forward, but this was not pursued by the Neighbourhood Group.

Financial Sustainability

Funders have had a significant influence on the evolution and sustainability of the Shelldale Centre. Revenue from partner rent is key to the sustainability of the Centre but it can be hard for nonprofit service partners to access funding, including money for rent.  Most have been there a long time, although there have been some changes as partners have lost funding and/or had to reduce their community space.

A hub is “a brilliant model if you can get the funding” to support it reflects Kate Bishop. A place like Shelldale needs an anchor tenant to provide rent revenue for a sizable amount of space and to attract other tenants.  Better Beginnings, Better Futures is seen as the anchor tenant.  Unfortunately, they have very limited funding and have been supported indirectly by other tenants. According to Bishop, other barriers, including “siloed” funding from government, means that partners and service providers have to be “really, really creative and put their necks out”.

Shifts in Funding and Policy

Four important shifts in policy and funding have affected the Shelldale Centre.

Community Development

For many years, Family & Children’s Services had community staff who worked in at-risk neighbourhoods, including in Onward Willow, to connect families with children to other residents and services in their community.  The program was preventative and focused on strengthening communities, resident relationships and supports.  The Ministry of Child and Youth Services withdrew funding for this program in 2009 and Guelph community service providers struggled to address the gap in the short-term that resulted from the closure of the program.

Around the same time, the City of Guelph was considering its role in funding and supporting communities and worked with the community to establish the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition to provide community development support and funding for residents and community groups.  While the funding support is neither at the same level as the previous Family & Children’s Services funding nor sustainable, it has partially addressed the gap in community development support.

Better Beginnings, Better Futures Funding

The shift of responsibility for early childhood education from the Ministry of Child and Youth Services to the Ministry of Education brought changes to funding and program delivery regulations and standards for the Better Beginnings, Better Futures program.  A change in ratios of children to professional staff led to a more formal program based on compliance with ratios and other new requirements, as well as a change in the engagement of volunteers and connection to the community.

Better Beginnings, Better Futures was advised that they could continue to receive funding through their trustee, Family & Children’s Service (less an amount to be paid for administration of the funding as required by the Ministry), or they could receive the funding directly if they established a governing board.  A decision was made to incorporate as a separate nonprofit and receive the funds directly.  The new organization was renamed Shelldale Better Beginnings, Better Futures. While this made Better Beginnings, Better Futures directly accountable for their program, it changed the relationship that they had with Onward Willow Neighbourhood Group and with Family & Children’s Services.

The process to separate was described as a ‘bumpy’ 18 months that led to some tensions between the parties. But it also led to some new opportunities and relationships.  Family & Children’s Services now has a different but supportive relationship with Better Beginnings, Better Futures. The funding implications for Better Beginnings, Better Futures were potentially positive – it was felt that they could benefit from greater funding if they had a clearer and more independent relationship with the original service partners.  The Onward Willow Neighbourhood Group lost their historical connection to Better Beginnings, Better Futures, when it changed its name to Shelldale Better Beginnings, Better Futures but acquired a new relationship with the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition and potential access to other sources of funding.

City of Guelph

Around the same time as the shifts affecting Better Beginnings, Better Futures, the City of Guelph moved its funding and support for residents and community groups to the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition. Onward Willow Neighbourhood Group didn’t receive the same amount of funding as other resident’s groups in Guelph because of its relationship with Better Beginnings, Better Futures; it was felt they might secure more funding if they were separate from Better Beginnings, Better Futures. (See Resources at bottom for more information on financial resources.)

Community Health Centre funding

The Guelph Community Health Centre provides an example of a different funding challenge.  The Community Health Centre was one of the first service providers to lease an office at Shelldale but needed more space and wanted to build a satellite location attached to the Centre.  Their funding challenge related to a requirement that a Community Health Centre must own the land that they want to build on. In the case of the Shelldale Centre, the Guelph Community Health Centre was able to negotiate a rare approval to build the satellite on leased land.  While it was resolved successfully, it highlights the challenge that shared space doesn’t work well for funders who want to know the percentage of the site that will be occupied by their funded agency – and “owned’ space doesn’t work well in a shared, collaborative environment like a hub” according to Thornley, the former Executive Director of the Community Health Centre.

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Benefits And Value Added

“Anyone associated with the Centre knows that it is making a huge difference,” reflects Sheila Markle. The Shelldale Centre has had a huge impact on the local community and its range of service partners bring a network of services to the neighbourhood.  Services are accessible and service providers can be more effective in their service delivery.

Erin Harvey from the Family & Children’s Centre, describes Shelldale as “creating a village for the children”.  Community members and service partners act like a village and provide many connections for the children: they form relationships, mentor, watch and support them.  It is almost as if the community co-parents the local children. The Guelph Police Service has developed great relations with the children – for example, playing basketball and helping out in other ways.  Recently, officers were called to the neighbourhood on a ‘real call’ and had to shoo away the children who thought they were there to hang out with them.  The hub was described as “the best way of providing services and supports to families,” and a resident quoted in a 2005 study referred to it as “magic.”

The Centre holds celebrations and community events.  At the 2017 annual picnic, a senior community leader reflected how different the community would be without the Centre. The challenge is to quantify the changes in community, and demonstrate the positive impact of Shelldale on the health of the community.  There has been research on the community and the impact that various programs, or the Centre itself, have had on the local community: the University of Guelph conducted a 10-year longitudinal study of the impact of the Better Beginnings, Better Futures program on child development in the 1990s.  In addition, more recent research has focused on Family & Children’s Services, service partnerships and community engagement. (See Better Beginnings, Better Futures for more information)

There are clear benefits for Onward Willow community members who face barriers trying to access services in downtown Guelph.  Residents have access to a range of quality prevention and intervention programs and services in the community. As described by Lorri Sauvé, the former Executive Director of Better Beginnings, Better Futures, ”staff just take the family member by the hand and walk them down the hall to another service provider.” Residents get easier referrals and connections to services that aren’t on-site.  Language can also be a barrier, but there is generally someone on-site from the various service providers who can translate.

Once residents develop a level of trust and comfort with one service provider at Shelldale, they start to check out the other programs that are available in the Centre. Nuttley, a local resident, “went from being opposed to being an active supporter” and eventually joining the Board of Directors of Better Beginnings, Better Futures.

Community members volunteer for some of the programs. They come to reception to visit, have a coffee, or access the informal clothing or food centre. Nuttley says he has “never seen anything like it – kids hugging Family & Children’s Services workers.”  At a recent community picnic, the Chief of Police turned to Sheila Markle, the Executive Director of Family & Children’s Services and said “… isn’t this fantastic” as he observed the activities, food, parents and kids, partner staff and volunteers all having a good time.

The Shelldale Centre service partners are also positively influenced by their relationship with the community and with each other.  Being in a co-located hub allows the partners to connect more effectively and efficiently, and provides opportunities for collaboration and creativity, leading to relationships among the services that are stronger, more direct and informal.  Onward Willow is a settlement community for newcomers to Guelph and service providers learn firsthand about new language, cultural and service needs.  Service providers can test ideas and pilot new approaches in Shelldale.

Shelldale Centre has been and is an inspiration for many other centres and hubs.  There “should be centres similar to Shelldale in all communities,” according to Lorri Sauvé.  Many of the partners currently involved with Shelldale Centre are supporting community efforts to develop a similar community hub in the Brant area of Guelph.  The City of Guelph has purchased land from the school board between a public school and a city park and has held community consultations to redevelop the park and incorporate a community hub.  The proposed Brant Hub would provide important community services and supports, connect with the park and the current school, and result in a better use of space.

The Shelldale Centre and the early relationships between service partners and community members served as inspiration to the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition when it was designing its governance structure.  The Coalition includes two panels: one for Guelph neighbourhood representatives and one for Guelph service providers.  Representatives from each of these panels sit on the decision-making board and have input to all decisions. Any decisions made at the AGM are based on a 2:1 ratio, with each resident member vote weighted at ‘2’ for every service member vote.  This ensures that residents have the balance of power and ownership of leading and supporting the development of local communities.

Kindle is evolving as well.  Originally established to manage the Shelldale Centre, it is now looking to offer support to other groups in the community serving children and families.

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Lessons Learned and Advice

Lesson 1

The community and service partners shared a strong and compelling vision that inspired early relationships and led to the development of the Shelldale Centre.  While there have been changes to the structure and relationships, the vision and sense of family and relationships has endured.

Lesson 2

The Shelldale Centre story illustrates some of the challenges and opportunities that occur over time and demonstrates that change can be managed creatively and successfully.

Lesson 3

Shelldale has demonstrated that a multi-service community centre can be successful and sustainable for the community and the service partners. Independent research has been undertaken to evaluate services and/or aspects of the Centre; this research can be used as evidence of impact, which is traditionally much harder for community members and community service providers to measure and demonstrate.

Lesson 4

Communities working together can have a big impact.  When the Shelldale Centre opened, the City of Guelph was supportive and offered community programs in the gymnasium as part of their Parks and Recreation services.  Initially there was very limited community take-up because residents didn’t want to go to programs located in the Onward Willow community.  The City now provides a grant to allow the gym space to be accessed by the local community and it is generally booked solid by the community and by the partner service providers.  The Shelldale Centre partners successfully use the Centre space for community benefit achieving greater result and impact than they could working alone.

Lesson 5

This case study has shown the positive and negative influence that funders can have in shaping the nature of relationships and, in particular, the overall structure of the Shelldale Centre.

Lesson 6

Collaboration is messy work and hard to do. It takes time, resources and a willingness to share beyond the organization or program boundaries.  Some of the partners have changed, the terms of the relationships have changed, and the internal hub capacity has changed, but the willingness to work together has sustained.

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Hazineh, L., Cameron, G., & Frensch, K. (2005). Family & Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County: A community-based model of child welfare service delivery. http://scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=pcfp

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