For the first time since they started recording this data in Canada, seniors outnumber youth. At almost 3% above the national average, Newfoundland and Labrador is leading the charge with 19.4% of our population over 65 (2016 Census).
The National Seniors Council of Canada has repeatedly identified social isolation as a big problem facing seniors today. Michelle Sullivan, a member of the Kings Gate Condominium Corporation’s board in St. John’s, echoes this concern, “As years go by, the risk of isolation tends to build.” The condo’s residents are primarily retirees. Michelle and residents have decided to improve their physical environment, with the pleasant side effect of combatting social isolation and creating a meaningful place in the neighbourhood. The kind of place that makes a neighbourhood unique, where you run into your neighbours and form relationships that go beyond a head nod. The kind of place we need more of especially in St. John’s newer neighbourhoods.
The Kings Gate Condominiums are at the end of Margaret’s Place. Their property backs onto Bonaventure, and is sandwiched between Holy Heart and Brother Rice. According to residents, the big field beside the condo building had been lying unused for too long. Starting in 2015, the group reached out to members of the community and began to shape a vision: the then overgrown lot could become a community garden, and public space. Residents welcomed inhabitants of the adjacent personal care home, “Bonaventure Retirement Centre”, young women and the broader neighbourhood. The group also hopes to get the two neighbouring schools involved so the outside space can supplement their in classroom education. Something the field’s namesake Brother Brennan would have gotten behind.
Last summer a partnership formed between the condo board and Stella’s Circle, where they ran a pilot program involving young women in the criminal justice system. For all involved, it became much more than expected. Stella’s Circle “Green Team” worked together with Conservation Corps NL to clear the land, build a number of raised beds and a greenhouse. Like many seniors, the young women from Stella’s Circle face many barriers and social isolation is often a result. The program not only helped them to find real work, and develop skills, a collegial relationship grew between the condo residents and program participants, people whose paths may not have otherwise crossed.
Lydia Lewycky, a landscape architect and urban planner, has been helping the group with the design of this public space. She describes their attitude as a holistic sharing. “The condo board is opening up their space to the broader community.” The pilot demonstrated this approach truly benefits everyone. Consulting arborist Ryan Painter says the food is a bonus. “There is a big education that goes along with gardening, it teaches accountability and responsibility.” The garden is bridging the gap between generations and breaking down social barriers.
You can purchase your own garden box from Stella’s Circle by emailing email@example.com. To learn more or to volunteer at Kings Gate reach out to Michelle with the condo board, firstname.lastname@example.org.