Co-ops resilient in a challenging time

  30 September 2020

  • "It has been a very challenging time but by working together and supporting each other we are getting through each day, week and month," Linda Prochaska, False Creek Housing Co-op.
    The last several months have come with their share of challenges, and they’ve shown us how important our connections are in fostering strong communities. But as we prepare for what looks to be a second wave of COVID-19, and potentially another round of socially isolating lockdowns, how do our co-ops stick together and stay strong?  

    The answer is, it turns out, as varied as our co-op sector. Each co-op, big or small, in the city or suburbs, or with a resident mix of mostly seniors or young families – all had different experiences with the onset of the pandemic. Since the spring, CHF BC has been on hand to support co-ops through the ups and downs of our growing virtual reality, with new online education opportunities and meeting support.

    “A lot of the co-ops, especially if they have a strong board or committee structure, were off and running since the spring,” said Ed Dagsaan, CHF BC’s Co-op Services Advisor. “They were able to put up flyers and assist their members, but some co-ops struggled because they didn’t have systems in place to communicate with their members or they just didn’t have the tools to help them. It’s been great for us to be there to advise them with different requirements, how to do meetings, and other issues.”

    When the pandemic set in the CHF BC inquiries for support did as well, with member inquiries jumping from 76 in February to 146 in June – a time of year that would usually be relatively quiet. Members were asking about implementing social distancing protocols, communicating with their members, holding meetings, and more.

    CHF BC responded to these quickly changing times by offering two virtual town halls at no cost to address members’ concerns. There was record attendance for the online spring events, which focused on general COVID-19 questions and legal questions in Ask the Lawyers.

    COVID-19 resource pages on the CHF BC website helped answer a wide range of pandemic-related questions, with co-op-specific information to help co-ops hold meetings, manage safe entry into units, handle repairs and maintenance, and cybersecurity, as well as providing downloadable posters to help communicate with members.

    “Almost immediately we also started looking at how we could support co-ops with their meetings,” added Michael Rodgers, CHF BC’s Co-op Services Director.

    Those started with a handful of test cases in May as CHF BC staff launched its Virtual Meeting Support Services, with assistance in operating AGMs, board meetings and town hall gatherings. The consultants have provided support as hosts, technical support and election specialists to ensure meetings run smoothly and effectively. Word of the handy service has spread, with nearly 40 virtual meeting support bookings for September, said Dagsaan.

    Online education has also been popular, said Fiona Jackson, CHF BC’s Member Engagement and Communications Director, particularly the virtual Education Summer Camp. This affordable series of webinars covered legal responsibilities for directors, fostering a successful board of directors, and tips for virtual meetings.

    “Overall it was really positive,” said Elizabeth McDonald, CHF BC’s Office Assistant. “People loved the online format, the accessibility and ease of learning and joining from home. Everyone was quite engaged as well – there were always lots of comments, people asking questions – sometimes that goes away a little bit in the virtual format. But people were still really engaged and it was well received.”

    That virtual learning will continue with a whole Fall into Learning series including the Fall Education Conference on October 31st, featuring a lineup of 10 sessions – with seven being new – and a fascinating plenary discussion that will add to the theme of increasing anti-racism awareness and strengthening inclusion in co-op communities.

    CHF BC staff are also moving Planning and Renewal services online so that co-ops can continue to develop and implement successful short- and long-term asset renewal strategies.

    It’s been a time of upheaval and unimaginable change, but CHF BC is working hard to ensure co-op communities remain as connected and strong as ever.

    “Resilience is a word you hear used a lot these days to describe the co-op model,” said Thom Armstrong, CEO of CHF BC. “Our members have certainly shown that to be true in the last six months, as have our amazing staff. I am so proud of the work our team has done to support co-ops and co-op members through a very challenging time – and I can’t help thinking that their best work is still to come.”

    Photos: Members of Amicae Housing Co-op in Vancouver’s West End practicing social distancing; staff and members in the co-op office wearing masks; CHF BC’s Liz McDonald preparing a mail-out to members; CHF BC staff are working remotely and when a few staff come to the office they practice social distancing and wearing masks to stay safe.