Civic Engagement Fair offers window into city hall

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Some 100 Londoners turned out to chat with city staff during the inaugural Civic Engagement Fair, held Jan. 25 at Goodwill Industries.

For many Londoners, city hall can be an intimidating space, particularly when someone is reaching out for the first time.

To help ease that sense of anxiety, The Urban League of London decided to reach out to the civic administration around the idea of doing something they already do on a regular basis — engage the wider community.

The results was the inaugural Civic Engagement Fair, held Jan. 25, at Goodwill Industries.

Urban League of London President Wes Kinghorn said the city has been doing “some really great engagement,” especially around the strengthening neighbourhoods process, so it made sense to do something to build upon that momentum.

“If you are a citizen approaching city hall, it can be daunting. There are multiple buildings, multiple departments on multiple floors, but for this event, we’ve compressed city hall into one room,” Kinghorn said. “You can literally walk from department to department and chat and learn. What we created is a miniature city hall, which is really cool.”

Some 100 people turned out for the fair, which feature nearly 30 staffers from various city service areas offering a mix of short presentations and casual tableside conversations.

The idea, Kinghorn said, is to offer participants the chance to learn more about “who does what” at the city and how people can get further involved.

Getting involved is something Barry Coulter has done a lot of in recent years.

A self-described “interested Londoner,” Coulter attended the fair because the more he has found out about how the city operates, the more impressed he has been with the work that is being done on a regular basis.

And while he feels comfortable in the building, he recognizes not everyone necessarily would feel the same way.

“I think city hall is actually pretty inviting. Any time I’ve been in there I’ve felt warmly welcome,” he said. “But around any government people, there would be hesitation by some. I think something like this, in a neutral location . . . this is a good setting.”

John Fleming, City of London Managing Director Planning and City Planner, welcomed the opportunity presented by the fair.

He lauded the Urban League for bringing the idea forward as it offers yet another way to engage the public, something Fleming said is essential in building community.

“We’re always looking for new and meaningful ways to reach out to people. It’s a chance to get outside the bureaucracy of places we normally reside and into the community to have an informal chat with folks,” he said. “I think something like this humanizes the services we provide. It’s really more of a chit-chat.”

City of London CEO Martin Hayward agreed the fair offered staff the opportunity to talk about “a lot of the good stuff we do,” while also providing that face-to-face interaction often essential in building relationships.

It’s an experience, he added, that was learned through ongoing efforts to provide Londoners with greater engagement around the budget process.

“We found through the budget process, where we did something similar, it demystified the budget for people, they were able to ask questions . . . when they heard the answers, it made sense,” he said. “This one-on-one, asking questions of staff, it’s a good thing. We do a lot of good work in the community and the staff are proud of what they do; they want to share that.”

Hanna Kim, a member of London Youth Advisory Council, said the fair offered participants the chance to become better educated on a number of subjects.

For example, she found the fair offered “a good representation” of what’s going on in the city, including highly visible topics such as ranked ballots, bus rapid transit and poverty — just three issues represented during the course of the evening.

“I think engagement is important,” she said. “It is important people know what their government is doing, and that they are open about it, not doing things behind closed doors. I think this is a good environment.”

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London Music Office, Fanshawe College partner on Music Cities Exchange

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The London Music Office is partnering with Hamilton’s music office and Fanshawe College for the Music Cities Exchange on Friday, Jan. 26.

Building a strong Music City is about breaking down barriers, opening doors for musicians, and helping the local music industry grow.

One way the London Music Office is doing that is by hosting Music Cities Exchange, a program designed to give emerging artists an opportunity to perform and build an audience outside of their hometown.

Working together with the City of Hamilton’s Hamilton Music City, the London Music Office is bringing Steel City and London together for the next edition of Music Cities Exchange on Friday, Jan. 26.

“Creating practical opportunities for musicians, students and the local industry is at the centre of the Music Cities Exchange program,” said London Music Industry Development Officer Cory Crossman. “Through the Music Cities Exchange, musicians gain exposure in new markets, students gain hands-on experience, and the local industry develops.”

Hamilton artists Emay and Basement Revolver will join the Forest City’s own Anela and The Early Hours, as well as Brighter Green, in performing at Fanshawe College’s Centre for Digital and Performance Arts Theatre.

The event is being organized in partnership with Fanshawe College, giving students in the Theatre Arts Technical Production program a hands-on learning opportunity managing production for the event including lighting, audio and front-end office work.

“We love being able to collaborate with our community partners, such as the London Music Office,” said Centre for Digital and Performance Arts Supervisor Michelle Giroux. “The learning opportunity that exists with this type of collaboration allows for the students in the Theatre Arts – Technical Production program to build their skills and experience first-hand what it takes to put together a live music showcase. We are looking forward to a night of live music and welcoming the community into the centre.”

This is the second Music Cities Exchange event hosted with Hamilton Music City.

Previously, London music groups Mountain of Wolves and The Pairs performed in Hamilton. Music Cities Exchange events have also taken place with Sudbury, Kitchener, Toronto and Mississauga, with eight London artists having the opportunity to perform at high exposure concerts in new markets through this program.

“This is another way we’re fostering collaboration and growth through our music city initiative,” said Mayor Matt Brown. “We want to showcase what London and our region has to offer, all while helping young people realize their potential in this industry.”

Admission is free to attend the event, but non-perishable food donations will be accepted for the London Food Bank.

Visit www.londonmusicoffice.com for other Music Cities Exchange events and opportunities for musicians.

Temporary Overdose Prevention Site to open in downtown London

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The site for London’s first Temporary Overdose Prevention Site, 186 King St., was announced on Jan. 19.

A new tool in the struggle to solve London’s opioid drug crisis is closer to reality.

One week after submitting an application and two days after police announced three deaths and two hospitalizations from suspected drug overdoses this week, it was announced at a media conference Jan. 19 that a Temporary Overdose Prevention Site (TOPS) has been approved to open in the downtown core.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has approved the application for a TOPS with one-time funding of $130,700. The TOPS will be located at 186 King St. and will share space with Regional HIV/AIDS Connection.

As the Counterpoint Needle and Syringe Program currently operates there, the TOPS location is already familiar to people who use injection drugs.

“This is a turning point in how we respond to the crisis that has gripped the London area for years,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, Medical Officer of Health and CEO at the Middlesex-London Health Unit. “This isn’t the only change that needs to happen, but it represents a significant step in turning the tide and supporting vulnerable people who struggle with addiction every day.”

The facility is expected to open in mid-February, and will provide people who use injection drugs with a space where they can use those drugs under the supervision of health professionals in order to prevent overdose deaths.

“I know my community in London has been concerned by this growing crisis, and I am proud that we will be the first city in Ontario to have an overdose prevention site,” said London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews. “Thanks to the thoughtful collaboration of London’s strong community and health partners who have worked quickly and diligently with the Ontario government to make this possible, we will help save lives.”

The creation of a TOPS in London became possible in December of 2017, when the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced an expanded response to Ontario’s opioid drug crisis.

In addition to equipping police and fire services with the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone, Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins wrote to the federal government requesting that Ontario be allowed to approve and fund overdose prevention sites.

In response, the Health Unit and Regional HIV/AIDS Connection began considering suitable locations and drafted the application for a facility in London, with the support of partners including London Intercommunity Health Centre, Addiction Services of Thames Valley, the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, and London CAReS.

“We’re at a critical time in the fight against these drugs,” said Regional HIV/AIDS Connection Executive Director Brian Lester. “There is increased awareness about how bad the situation has become and opinions are changing about what can be done. This facility will save lives.”

Once it opens its doors, London’s TOPS will be open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

While the announcement of the TOPS is important, work to prepare an application for one or more permanent Supervised Consumption Facilities for London will continue.

Ontario commits up to $170 million for London BRT plan

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London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews, along with provincial transport minister Steven Del Duca, have announced the province will provide up to $170 million for London’s BRT plan.

The Ontario government has announced it is investing in the London Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) — a new transit project proponents say will connect people in the Forest City with work, school, appointments and activities faster, while increasing transit ridership and helping manage congestion.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca and London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews were in London Jan. 15 to announce the province is funding the new transit project.

“The Ontario government is providing up to $170 million to support London’s BRT system,” Del Duca said. “We want to ensure that neighbourhoods in London can thrive and prosper through better and more efficient transit infrastructure that will help get people where they need to go faster and easier. Our government’s investments in public transit will help us manage congestion, curb emissions, create more jobs and build better communities.”

The BRT system will provide commuters with 23.7 kms of rapid transit along London’s busiest corridors, connecting neighbourhoods, businesses and post-secondary institutions in the city to the downtown core.

The project builds on other major transit projects across the region, including continued progress on a new high-speed rail line that would cut travel times between London and Toronto to 73 minutes.

Together, Matthews said these investments will help create a rapid transit network in London that connects key hubs of economic, academic and social and cultural activity.

“Today’s announcement is great news for Londoners and our economy,” Matthews said. “This investment in our transit system will make London a more competitive and attractive location for business. Having access to rapid transit will improve the quality of life for those that work and live in London.”

Ontario is investing $170 million to build the new London BRT system. The total estimated cost for London’s BRT system is $498 million. The City of London has committed $130 million towards the capital costs.

The City of London will be responsible for all the ongoing operating and maintenance costs of the project.

“It is a huge day for London. This is going to provide Londoners with better transit everywhere, this system is the cornerstone of The London Plan and will change the way we move and grow,” Brown said. “This $170-million represents the single largest investment our provincial partners have ever made in our community. Thank you to our partners at Queen’s Park for sharing council’s vision for our city.”

Construction is phased and estimated to begin on the east corridor in 2020 and on the north corridor in 2022, with the opening of these corridors in 2023 and 2026 respectively. Construction would then begin on the south corridor in 2023 and on the west corridor in 2025, and open by 2026 and 2028.

Under the Gas Tax Program, Ontario also provided the City of London with more than $119 million for the improvement and expansion of public transit since 2004.

Contemplating an exciting tomorrow

inspiration-quote-say-yes-to-new-adventures-silhouette-hand-love-sign-road-motivational-typographic-74265247My world is changing and with that comes the opportunity for reflection.

Allowing myself the time to contemplate my yesterday, today and tomorrow is a self-indulgence I’ve never allowed myself.

Change brings with it pain, but the potential for joy as well, and so I owe it to myself to explore it all.

As I look back, as I imagine forward, the world of what was and what could be comes into focus.

I will miss writing for Our London, undoubtedly the best job I’ve ever had.

I will miss the whole team, but especially Whitney South who has become one of my best new friends in a long time.

I will miss being in the know, being connected to the pulse of what is happening in London, a city I’ve grown to love so much.

I will miss sharing stories with everyone who took the time to read my words, because there has been no greater joy for me than that.

I will miss the conversations I had every day, because nothing in the world beats being paid to simply talk with people.

I will miss the joy that comes from informing people about the things they need to know, but also the things they didn’t know would affect them so profoundly.

Most of all, I will miss knowing who I am. Being able to introduce myself as a journalist for the better part of nearly 24 years has helped define me, especially to myself.

But maybe that’s where the future begins. I’ve never coped well with the unknown, with not knowing my next move, but perhaps that’s just what I need at this point in my life.

I will miss a lot, but I am looking forward to even more.

I look forward to making new connections, which I’ve learned is a necessity I need as much as air.

I look forward to sharing my experience with new friends and colleagues, something I hope others will welcome as well.

I look forward to new challenges, as I’ve never done well with being bored, which makes the unknown an exciting time.

I look forward to being able to look back and know I took advantage of my situation and didn’t fall victim to anxiety or despair.

I look forward to getting to know myself in a whole new way, because that is something my mental health journey has taught me I owe myself each and every day.

Most of all, I will look forward to tomorrow. Being able to introduce myself as Sean, and know that is enough, is perhaps the greatest gift of all.

I will miss a lot, but I am looking forward to even more.

Thank you London for the memories, looking forward to a hopeful future

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For the better part of the past seven years, my time at what became Our London magazine provided me with the opportunity to tell many wonderful stories.

Angry, sad, confused, are just some of the ways to describe my feelings on the pending end of the Our London publication, but when looking back over the past seven years I’m left with one key thought — hope.

It’s difficult to wrap my head around the fact I’m losing the job I love, which for the past six years — of Our London and London Community News before it — has involved chronicling the stories of the Forest City. But even more than that, it has been about finding my place inside this community and my admiration for the people who make it the best place I have ever lived.

London Community News allowed me the opportunity to cover the day-to-day happenings of the Forest City, from hard news to feature profiles and everything in between.

As such, I was able to witness up close as organizations like Pillar Nonprofit Network, the United Way and London Community Foundation stepped up to support people and organizations committed to not only helping develop the city, but to helping those who perhaps didn’t know where to turn next.

Although covering stories of tragedy and loss were never my forte, there were moments of triumph in them that couldn’t be denied. From the community coming together to support a family who lost its home in a fire, or organizations like Unity Project, Salvation Army and My Sister’s Place supporting those who literally had no where else to turn, it was a pleasure to tell stories beyond the simple headlines.

I perhaps found my place in the community when given the opportunity to cover London city council.

It often led to some very lengthy days (and nights), but sitting in the council chamber and listening to the decision makers build the future direction of London — and eventually being applauded for live-tweeting that process — was more than just a job.

At a time when politics has become so divisive, it has certainly been interesting to watch the city’s representatives — municipal, federal and provincial, some within the government structure, others shining in opposition to it — prove that whatever the public thinks of their politics, their motivation has always been to make London a better place.

It may not always feel that way, particularly when political decisions go in a direction opposite of your own passions, but the truth is these stories were all about showing politics is about more than cartoon super-villains. Again, it was a feeling of hope that was most captured in many of the articles I wrote — a feeling that a brighter future was possible even if the community at large doesn’t always agree on how to get there.

As London Community News shifted into the more entertainment and lifestyle focus of Our London, I admit I was somewhat (OK, more than somewhat) conflicted about the decision.

Over time, however, I was honoured to witness first-hand the incredible depth of talent Londoners have to offer.

Whether it was through coverage of London Arts Council or London Music Office, or any of the hundreds of singers, actors, and visual artists I’ve had the pleasure to chronicle these past several years, I believe the culture sector is one of the keys to the city’s future.

From talented singers like Sarah Smith and Rose Cora Perry, remarkable artists such as Steve Tracy and Sarah Kane, and community champions including Glen Pearson and Lincoln McCardle, the number of people with compelling stories to share surely reached into the thousands. Whether it was the Grand Theatre, the Palace Theatre, the Arts Project, London Fringe or many others, it was always a joy to reach out to the various organizations championing remarkable talent from across London — and indeed the world — and share what they were creating.

With my own future headed in an unknown direction, I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to meet so many people who’ve not only championed the growth of my favourite city, but my own development as a person.

That’s perhaps where my hopeful self is most nervous — but excited too.

Thank you everyone.

MPs Fragiskatos, Young to welcome Trudeau to London

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be back in London at Western University’s Alumni Hall on Thursday, Jan. 11 for the third stop on his latest national town hall tour.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will make London the third stop on his latest national tour.

Trudeau — who will be welcomed by London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos and London West MP Kate Young — will host town halls from coast to coast to coast, connecting directly with Canadians in communities across the country.

“A strong country, a thriving economy and a vibrant democracy are dependent on citizen engagement,” Fragiskatos said. “This town hall event — the second that Prime Minister Trudeau has held in London — will give community members an opportunity to engage and articulate their views on how we can build a future where all of us have an opportunity to succeed.”

On Thursday, Jan. 11, beginning at 7:30 p.m., the Prime Minister, along with Fragiskatos and Young, will be at Alumni Hall on the campus of Western University. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.

The goal of the town hall is for Trudeau to hear directly from Canadians in London on a variety of subjects, including how to create growth that works for everyone, preparing for the jobs of the future, as well as building a stronger more resilient middle class.

Fragiskatos and Young are also looking forward to sharing some local highlights from their communities, including:

  • Research funding for Western University, including the single largest research contribution in the university’s history aimed at helping those struggling from the effects of stroke, concussions, and mental health challenges
  • The Canada Child Benefit, which supports more than 62,000 children in London
  • Funding through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario for growing sectors such as manufacturing and new technology to help diversify London’s economy

“I am thrilled to welcome Prime Minister Justin Trudeau back to London for a second town hall meeting at Western University,” Young said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for the London community to voice their opinions and ideas, and I encourage the constituents of London West to attend.”

RSVPs do not guarantee access to the event. Admission to the event will be on a first come, first served basis.

Large bags and coats/jackets will not be permitted inside the venue.

Further specific event details can be found at PeterFragiskatos.ca or KateYoung.ca.