London poets take second at Canadian slam championships

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The London Poetry Slam team, including (from left) coach Holly Painter, Alan Leangvan, Levi Hord, Inali Barger, Jayme Archibald and Eric Trudell, returned home Oct. 30 from the recent Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, in Winnipeg, with a second place finish.

Just eight years ago the slam poetry scene in London wasn’t strong enough to warrant its own team in the national spoken word competition.

On Oct. 30, the London Poetry Slam team returned home from the recent Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (CFSW), in Winnipeg, with a second place finish — the city’s best ever result.

“The best London had done before was 12th place and that was last year. We demolished that record,” said team member Eric Trudell, who at 14 was the youngest finals participant in CFSW history. “I think this will make London as a city, London as a slam and all the London poets more recognized. I think we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. I think it will really put London on the map in the slam scene.”

The CFSW had its first festival in Ottawa in 2004 and has since become a national traveling festival.

Spoken Word Canada pairs with the host city’s local festival organization committee to create the slam poetry competition. This year’s event took place Oct. 23-30 at several locations in Winnipeg.

With 22 teams from across the country competing and participating in poetry and spoken word events, the Winnipeg event became the largest national slam poetry competition put on by CFSW.

For the third time, Holly Painter — director of the London Poetry Slam, as well as Spoken Word Canada national director — coached the Forest City team, which included Trudell, Alan Leangvan, Jayme Archibald, Inali Barger, and Levi Hord.

Painter said watching her team reach the national semi-finals, then finals, and come home with a second place finish speaks to how far the London poetry scene has come.

Back in 2008, the scene in London, along with those in Guelph and Peterborough, weren’t big enough to send teams to nationals so they created a combined roster with members from every city.

Now eight years later, Peterborough and London joined the eventual champions from Guelph in the finals.

After the preliminary rounds, the CFSW semi-finals are made up of the top eight teams who then compete against each other with the top four reaching the national finals.

But just like with the London Poetry Slam, Painter emphasized competition isn’t what the festival is ultimately about.

“The experience of getting far in the competition didn’t make everybody more competitive, it made everybody really focused on the community,” she said. “We celebrate all the steps we take. Every time our audience grows, every time we place better at competitions, every time individual poets have accomplishments, it is those mini-accomplishments that make the whole community thrive and grow.”

That hope is something Leangvan has embraced.

The second place finish is something Leangvan, making his first CFSW appearance, said has set “a whole new standard” for the London poetry scene.

It was also uplifting for Leangvan’s poetry as well.

“It was humbling, but inspiring at the same time. This is nationals, you see amazing talent, but also styles you maybe never have seen before,” he said. “You are seeing poets from the other end of the country, from Vancouver for example to Guelph with a much lower population. The way they are different, they way their styles are, their backgrounds are; it’s great.”

Painter said she’d like to one day see London host a CFSW.

But what might come before that day, according to Trudell, would be a CFSW victory for London.

“We came in prepared for our first two bouts, we didn’t expect to make semi-finals, so we were digging through everything we had, writing new stuff, practicing new stuff,” he said. “When we made finals we were even less prepared. So I think what it takes to win it all would be having more practice, having more written, being better prepared for every opportunity that arises.”

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Million Tree Challenge honouring those keeping London green

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ReForest London’s inaugural Million Tree Challenge Awards were presented on Oct. 20. Honourees included (from left) Calvin McCallum, Matthew Juszczynski, Julie Ella Dubeau, Jen McCrae and Patrick McNeill. (Amy Muschik Photo)

The first Million Tree Challenge Awards have been handed out to those keeping the forest in the Forest City.

The awards were presented to five community partners in London’s Million Tree Challenge on Oct. 20 at the annual A Toast to Trees event. These new awards recognize great contributions by businesses, organizations and individuals who are making a difference through their support of tree planting in London.

The Solid Oak Award honours a high-level supporter of London’s Million Tree Challenge based on a multitude of actions including sponsorship, and the first Solid Oak Award was given to London Life.

“London Life’s ongoing support has provided a foundation upon which ReForest London has been able to build and grow,” said Dean Sheppard, executive director at ReForest London. “This support has been integral not only to our work but it enabled us to develop and co-found, with the City of London, the Million Tree Challenge.”

The Forest City Builder Award honours an organization that has been a consistent, reliable supporter of London’s Million Tree Challenge. The award was awarded to CLC Tree Services

“CLC has been a Partner of the Million Tree Challenge since 2011, and they have and are often the first to answer the call when their support is needed for a project,” said Sheila Creighton, ReForest London partnerships and marketing manager. “Over the years, CLC has done many things to contribute to London’s Million Tree Challenge from sponsorship to social media.”

The Digging In Award honours special achievements in tree planting in London by a local organization with TD Friends of the Environment Foundation receiving the first honour.

Since its launch in 2010, thousands of volunteers — from Brownies to bankers — have planted over 235,000 trees through TD Tree Days in over 230 communities across Canada, including almost 13,000 trees in London alone over the course of 20 events.

The Tree Hero Award was presented to Matthew Juszczynski in recognition of an individual who has made a difference with trees.

“Despite his calm and quiet demeanour, anyone who has worked with him knows that Matthew is a force for change in our community,” said Amber Cantell, Reforest London director of programs. “After his first son was born in 2012, Matthew decided that his Argyle neighbourhood could use some more trees, and he certainly has done that.”

To date, Juszczynski has fund raised over $40,000 in funding and match-support for projects in his community and seen more than 1,000 native trees and shrubs planted in his neighbourhood.

The Tree Team Award honours a volunteer group giving their time to planting and caring for trees in London. Western Serves was the inaugural winner of the team award.

Western Serves is a campus-wide program of Western University, which allows students, staff and faculty to get engaged with non-profit organizations in the London community, helping raise awareness of the social issues they tackle, and leading a boost to fulfill their respective missions.

Since they began planting with ReForest London in 2009, over 600 volunteers from Western Serves have planted 3,502 native trees and shrubs in seven different parks.

The mission of the Million Tree Challenge is to work with residents, community groups, businesses and institutions to plant one million trees in London. For more information, visit www.milliontrees.ca.

Women to Facebook: don’t ban our bodies

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A movement led by local photographer Laura Robinson is drawing attention to Facebook’s double standard around body image.

A growing collective of women are taking to social media to demand Facebook stop censoring their photos.

The photos, they argue, fully meet the community guidelines set out by the popular social networking site.

After having several photos taken down, and sitting through Facebook’s temporary time-out bans, the growing group of women began an online movement and photo series called #dontbanmybody in an attempt to get the social network to re-evaluate its policies.

“We are trying to call attention to the arbitrary way Facebook moderates content that disproportionately affect women’s bodies,” said Laura Robinson, an artist and photographer who is leading the online movement after having several of her photos deleted from the website.

Robinson, who runs a modelling page that focuses on artistic, implied nudes of diverse bodies, she said, “show about the same amount of skin as a bikini photo,” added, “Our photos are all tasteful, meet community standards, and began as a way to help women celebrate their diverse bodies.”

The project features a series of portraits of women standing topless with black tape covering their nipples and areolas.

The campaign calls on all women to take their own photos, or to share their stories of times they’ve been censored, body shamed, or how their body empowers them using the hashtag #dontbanmybody.

“This campaign isn’t just about censorship,” said Suze Morrison, one of the women whose photos have been removed. “It’s about the fact that we are following all the rules, and being told our bodies are offensive. I’ve seen photos depicting women in objectifying and demeaning ways that show full nudity and are deemed acceptable, even after being reported.”

The censorship has reached a point where even photos of Robinson’s cat are being automatically flagged for nudity.

“The message we hear from Facebook is that our bodies are only offensive if we are reclaiming our agency over them,” said Robinson. “If our bodies are used to sell things or objectify us, or being posted by a paying advertiser, it’s given a free pass.”

The group hopes the campaign will put enough pressure on Facebook to re-evaluate some of its content policies from a gendered lens, similar to past campaigns like #freethenipple.

While Facebook has changed its policies to allow for photos of women’s nipples while breastfeeding, or depicting post-mastectomy scars, many women still face challenges with those photos continuing to be reported and pulled.

Margeaux Collyer a tattoo artist who specializes in working with breast cancer survivors, struggles to keep her photos of reconstructed 3D areola tattoos from being pulled as well.

“If my tattooed nipples were drawn on male bodies, there wouldn’t be an issue,” she said.. “And that’s the double standard we are trying to highlight.”

Feds, province invest in infrastructure renewal at Fanshawe College

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The federal and provincial governments are teaming up with a $6.2 million investment in Fanshawe College.

The federal and provincial governments are making a $6.2 million investment in new labs and improved biotechnology research facilities at Fanshawe College.

The investment, announced on Oct. 7, is designed to better equip students with the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

This joint federal-provincial investment was announced today by London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos, on behalf of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains, and by Deputy Ontario Premier and London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews, who is also the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development.

“This infrastructure investment at Fanshawe College is excellent news for one of Ontario’s largest colleges,” Fragiskatos said. “Fanshawe has made a commitment to educate, engage, empower and excite, and the Centre for Advanced Research and Innovation in Biotechnology will do just that. These investments — which are taking place across Canada — will create good, well-paying jobs that can help the middle class grow and prosper today, while also delivering sustained economic growth for years to come.”

Matthews said the province is “proud to support this important project” to give Fanshawe College students access to renewed facilities.

“We know that providing access to high-quality education and training facilities is critical to building the highly skilled workforce we need to support good jobs and economic growth for today and tomorrow, and this investment will help us to do it,” Matthews said. “Providing access to high-quality education and training facilities is part of our government’s plan to build up our highly skilled workforce and see that Ontarians have the required skills to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

The funding will support Fanshawe College’s establishment of the Centre for Advanced Research and Innovation in Biotechnology (CARIB), which will provide labs and expertise to promote commercialization.

The CARIB will advance biotechnology, chemistry, and environmental technology programs through research and innovation with industry collaborations and partnerships.

Of the $6.2 million investment, $4 million will come from the federal government and $2.2 million from the Government of Ontario. Fanshawe College will contribute an additional $2.8 million for a total investment of $9 million.

As a result of these investments, students, professors and researchers will work in state-of-the-art facilities that advance the country’s best research.

They will collaborate in specially designed spaces that support lifelong learning and skills training and will work in close proximity with partners to turn discoveries into products or services.

“Fanshawe’s new Centre for Advanced Research and Innovation in Biotechnology will allow the College to prepare graduates for relevant and rewarding careers in biotechnology, while providing space for students to collaborate on research projects with industry partners,” said Fanshawe College president Peter Devlin. “The centre will also have modern lab space for our senior students to work on projects in an independent environment.”

 

City lowers speed limits in school zones

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The City of London has reduced the speed limit in many school zones to 40 km/h.

This fall, 40 is the new 50, as the City of London is reducing speed limits in many school zones to 40 km/h.

This change in speed limit will affect school zones located on residential streets across the city and will be phased in over a two-year period.

The Middlesex London Road Safety Committee identified pedestrian safety as a priority in its City of London Road Safety Strategy 2014–2019.

Reducing speed limits near schools, according to a City of London media release, is designed to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and to encourage a more active lifestyle by addressing some of the safety concerns of students walking and cycling to school.

“Vehicle speed and pedestrian safety are some of the top concerns I hear from the community. By decreasing the speed around school zones we are increasing the safety for everyone,” says Ward 10 Coun. Virginia Ridley, who first proposed lowering the speed limits. “I am very excited that we are able to move forward on decreasing the speed limits in school zones. I hope that parent confidence will increase in encouraging their children to walk to and from school each day — creating a healthier and more active community.”

A typical school zone starts 150 metres before a school property and ends 150 metres after a school property.

Installation of the new speed limit signs commenced this week in the area of Jean Vanier Catholic School, Westmount Public School and Saunders Secondary School on Viscount Road.

“Making walking, running and cycling routes safer for young Londoners is a priority in our Strategic Plan,” said Mayor Matt Brown. “Lowering speed limits in school zones contributes to making our city safer, healthier and more accessible. I would like to thank Coun. Ridley for being such a champion for this change.”

Council recently adopted The London Road Safety Strategy, which defines a system and a process for setting out the targets, policies, and action plans that will guide the city and its partners in creating safer roads by reducing the number and severity of motor vehicle collisions.

 

Vital Signs finds mental health community’s single greatest issue

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The 2016 Vital Signs report — The Time is Now — was unveilled on Oct. 4 at YMCA Wortley Village.

The London Community Foundation (LCF)’s 2016 Vital Signs report identifies mental health as “the single greatest issue,” facing the Forest City today.

With that in mind, the LCF president and CEO is confident the document will spur “much-needed” change in the mental health care system.

“The report tells us the time is now to start changing the system,” said Martha Powell, during the unveiling of the Vital Signs report, Oct. 4, at the YMCA Wortley Village. “We see there are gaps in service delivery, some people doing things really well and others doing the same thing really well, but they should be and can be working together.”

Powell said the Vital Signs report — titled The Time is Now — examines “the systems gaps” in the delivery of mental health services.

The report examines the issue through the lens of housing, health, work, learning, and leadership and belonging.

Powell said “as leaders and drivers of social change,” the foundation is taking a stand.

“I think we’re going to be a little more provocative this time,” she said. “There have been a lot of programs over the years addressing mental health and de-stigmatization. We’re calling those people in those programs to challenge themselves.”

Vital Signs 2016, Powell said, will not only challenge stigma that exists in the community, but will address systems gaps, and call for a more inclusive collaborative network of mental health organizations.

The long-term goal, she added, is to unify resources and organizations to provide help to individuals that need it, “in a comprehensive, all-encompassing, and unified system.”

Dr. Steven Harrison, CMHA Middlesex CEO and one of over 100 community partners and supporters attending the launch, praised The Time is Now for striking the right chord for Londoners “to start paying attention” and taking heed of the problems that exist in the system.

Harrison said the key areas highlighted in the report have long served as the social indicators of health.

But now, the community has a document that talks about London’s needs, ties it to the Canadian framework, but will also enlighten people around how profound the need is in the community.

“I think there is massive room for change and opportunity,” Harrison said. “We have a system that was probably designed 30 or 40 years ago . . . it stands to be modernized.”

Much like cancer wasn’t openly discussed in the 50s and 60s, Harrison said conversations around mental health and addictions really only started moving forward in the 2000s.

Glen Pearson, an LCF board member and a member of the Vital Signs Committee, alongside Harrison and Brad Duncan, said he realized early on the direction Vital Signs would be taking.

“I think the most important part for me is when we had our first committee meeting, there was recognition this was what it had to be,” he said. “One of the difficult conversations we’re going to have to have in London around mental health is how do we co-ordinate . . . prioritize. That will be the difficult part, can people get through that initial thing of recognition we have to streamline this process for the sake of the people we’re trying to assist.”

To help drive the change she is hoping for, Powell said the foundation will, over time, host a series of community conversations.

These discussions will be important, but she said they don’t have to take place in a formal setting.

“Talk to your neighbours, have the conversation at the next barbecue. Have the conversation. There’s probably nobody you know that hasn’t been affected in some way by mental health, friends, family, even yourself,” Powell said. “We can’t do it alone, we don’t program, but we can work from behind and foster a new model of thinking. I think it’s the direction we have to go in and it really is the time.”

Renovations to Former London Normal School complete

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The former London Normal School is now home to YMCA Wortley Village.

Renovations to what is often lovingly called the jewel of Wortley Village have been completed.

The adaptive reuse of the former London Normal School has maintained the heritage features of the iconic building while bringing the site up to building code for tenancy and making it available for use by a valued community partner.

“The community ultimately benefits from the restoration of this unique and iconic landmark building and the addition of the green space behind it now secured as city-owned park space,” said Mayor Matt Brown. “Redevelopment of the London Normal School protects and celebrates London’s heritage for current and future generations.”

Built in 1898-1899 by architect Francis Heakes, the site was home to the London Normal School until 1958, a facility used for training of new teachers.

The building was retrofitted in 1963 to serve as space for both the public and Catholic school boards until 2004 when it was vacated.

Renovations to the building began in May 2015 and were completed in June 2016.

“The London Normal School is historically and architecturally valuable to our city,” said Jim Yanchula, manager of urban regeneration and planning services. “The sensitive restoration maintained the heritage and history of the building while updating features to meet the needs of current and future tenants.”

The site is now home to a state-of-the-art YMCA child care facility, learning spaces, camp programs and administration space.

“The YMCA is excited to be a part of Wortley Village,” said Andrew Lockie, YMCA of Western Ontario CEO. “We are grateful to the City of London for the opportunity to house our new child care centre, free language instruction for newcomers to Canada and administrative spaces in this beautifully restored heritage building.”

The High Victorian style building is a provincially significant heritage property designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.

All work at the site received approval from the Ontario Heritage Trust.

Community consultation remains underway on potential improvements for park uses in the adjacent green space.

The site participated recently in 2016 Doors Open London and Culture Days event, receiving considerable community attention.