The region’s rural townships all in the same boat due to the pandemic, the four municipalities have been working together under the umbrella of the Rural Recovery Coordinating Committee (RRCC). A year into the crisis, the group continues to meet regularly to draw attention to the difficulties the townships face.
“The way things started off initially was to support one another, with best practices and sharing knowledge and expertise around the implementation of policies, new procedures, new protocols, and issues that were arising in the community,” said David Brenneman, chief administrative officer for Woolwich Township.
Initially a collaboration between Woolwich, Wellesley, Wilmot and North Dumfries, the townships soon enlisted the help of rural community support agencies to help build a connection to resources and add additional voices to the conversation. Today, the board includes the likes of Woolwich Community Services, Wilmot Family Resource Centre and Community Care Concepts.
Following initial meetings that were a platform to find common ground on protocols and procedures related to the pandemic, the focus shifted to two areas: getting information out to the community and the longer-term issue of affordable housing.
“We looked at the possibility of whether it would be possible for the four townships to come together and collaborate on affordable housing projects, but it soon became obvious that there were a lot of nuances to every township in terms of land that might be available and what their priority that might be relative to affordable housing,” said Brenneman, adding that conversations around seniors housing are also taking place.
In relation to the pandemic itself, the goal was to get information out to the public about the rapidly changing situation and evolving public health measures.
“The other big priority that we’ve stayed focused in on is making sure that we’re getting good strong information out to the community – all of the townships and the residents – about what sort of workshops are available through the counselling support agencies in terms of helping manage through the pandemic, people’s mental health, and their emotional wellbeing.”
Getting the word out isn’t always easy in the rural areas, particularly among Old Order Mennonite groups, Brenneman noted. For that reason, the committee enlisted the help of Sarah Farwell, the COVID-19 response lead for Ontario Health in Waterloo and Wellington counties, “when we were trying to ensure appropriate COVID testing, or even messaging was getting out to the wider community, especially the old order and the conservative Mennonite group.”
In addition to being a voice for rural residents, the committee also hosted a number of virtual activities online to keep people engaged with one another, which relates to the team’s unofficial motto, ‘we’re stronger together.’
“[It’s] always been part of the culture in rural areas. A lot of organizations are small, so you need to leverage the combined sum total of staffing and financial resources. And, when you do that, you’re able to make a bigger difference for the community,” said Brenneman.
The RRCC has plans of meeting regularly until the pandemic is over and to continue on afterwards.
“We’re going to continue to collaborate. And we’re going to continue to focus in on community priorities that are meant to make a positive difference, really, in the lives of our residents.”