Engage the do-ers, forget the naysayers and your small town can do big things, says Liz Huff.
Huff, who is a municipal councillor of the Kingston-area hamlet of Seeley’s Bay – population 400 – told those attending the Teeny Tiny Southwest Summit in Alvinston, the secret to growth is finding “passion of place.”
Letting go of the past is key, she says, adding communities that want to grow need to give up negative perceptions that may be shared and reinforced by gossip.
“The most evil (thing) is the coffee shop,” Huff explains. She’s only half-joking.
Huff is the former head of community development policy for Human Resources and Social Development Canada and she’s worked on community revitalization projects across the country.
After retiring from her career in Ottawa, Huff decided to move to Seeley’s Bay. She didn’t know the town at all, although she had passed the entrance many times on the highway. When she decided to become part of the urban exodus, Huff found an affordable house on line in Seeley’s Bay.
She discovered Seeley’s Bay was a place full of possibilities, but it didn’t promote itself at all.
The town is located on the Rideau Canal — a UNESCO Heritage Site — but nobody knew that, Huff says.
As an outsider with fresh eyes, Huff believes she could see all the incredible things Seeley’s Bay had to offer, things the locals had lost sight of.
She wanted to help her new hometown prosper. Not one to sit back, she sought out like-minded people and the Seeley’s Bay Steps Up volunteer group was born.
Huff and the volunteers set to work. Their first job was creating a big billboard on Highway 15 to increase the town’s visibility. Increased social media presence and the addition of special events has also worked. Huff says Seeley’s Bay has become a go-to destination where people come to relax and play.
Huff say the key to completing successful volunteer-driven projects is finding out what individual volunteers are good at and then play to their strengths.
“There’s something for everyone,” Huff notes, adding groups need to “learn together” by reading the same books and sharing goals.
“Your community has magical people,” she told about 125 people at the Brooke-Alvinston-Inwood Community Centre.
Dollars can sometimes be in short supply but fundraising is do-able, Huff explains. She says the harder part is figuring out what to do.
But when you do, do it well, she adds. Putting your community’s social media presence out there is vital Huff notes, adding the messages draws community together. Before and after pictures are great motivating tools and especially helpful when applying for government grants, she says.
“Make sure your projects are authentic and appropriate,” Huff explains.
“Don’t pretend you are something you’re not.”