Canadian housing co-op wins national award for fostering inclusion via a Women’s Circle

Members of the Sarcee Meadows Housing Co-op in Calgary come from a diverse range of ethnicities and backgrounds

Women members of a Canadian housing co-operative in Calgary have created a group to exchange experiences and build new friendships within the local community.

The Women’s Circle, set up in 2014 by six women from Sarcee Meadows Housing Co-operative (SMHC), so women in the co-op could get to know each other, brings together members from various ethnicities and backgrounds. They meet once every two months as a large group and more casually once a month.

The women are in contact on a regular basis via a mailing list, which they also use to share stories of success from their local community. They do different activities, from teaching each other how to make cinnamon buns or samosas to making flower planters, running community hijab and henna days, organising tea parties and voting together in the federal election.

“If one of the ladies is sick and has family members that are ill, I send a note to the ladies letting them know and asking for their prayers and support,” said Kathy Aubichon, member of the Women’s Circle and corporate secretary of SMHC’s board of directors.

Related: Canada’s housing co-ops gather to discuss need for affordable homes

“If there are workshops or activities that might interest the group I send that information out. So, although we only meet formally once every couple of months, we are in constant contact with each other via email as well as we see each other very often when we are out and about in the neighbourhood.”

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Their efforts were recognised at the annual general meeting of Co-operative Housing Canada in June, where the group was awarded the CHF Canada (Co-operative Housing Federation) Co-operative Achievement Award along with CAD $2,500.

The funding from the award, and the $2,300 from the CHF Canada Diversity Grant, will be used to host a culture event on 19 August.

“Our plans for the future are to keep doing what we are doing – keep having events and growing our Women’s Circle bigger and bigger,” said Ms Aubichon.

Shabana Thabasum, a member of the Women’s Circle, added: “What’s the point of living in a community where you don’t know each other? That’s the main reason we started the Women’s Circle – sharing our stories, sharing our experiences, sharing what we know which other can benefit from.

“Before I used to hesitate to go and talk to anyone but now I’ll the first one to go and introduce myself and start talking.”

The housing co-op includes over 380 homes with people from culturally diverse backgrounds. Carol Davis, another member of the circle, said: “It’s wonderful to have that kind diversity going on in the group.”

“We at Sarcee Meadows are living proof that if you just extend that olive branch and sit down and actually get to know your neighbours and the people in your community, what amazing things we can do together to build inclusiveness and diversity,” says Ms Aubichon.

“Joining the Women’s Circle I just got that confidence that I can walk through the community, say ‘Hi’ to everybody. I help out with my neighbours, my neighbours help me. The men and children have got to know each other. That sense of belonging, sense of community has developed so much over the past three years.”

Women members of the Women’s Circle

The circle also hosts cultural events, working in partnership with the city of Calgary’s recreation department. As part of this collaboration, the circle helped create girls and women-only swims at city pools, so Muslim women and girls could swim and socialise with other women.

“It is inspiring and vital when we hear of people and groups who are building bridges instead of barriers. Sarcee Meadows and their Women’s Circle is one such community who are doing so,” said Barb Millsap, director of CHF Canada. “The Women’s Circle has made very real and meaningful impacts in the lives of the women involved. Empowering, sense of community, belonging and friendship are just some of the many powerful words that the women of the Circle use to describe their group.”

The Women’s Circle has also submitted a proposal for funding and we were selected by CHF Canada to receive an additional $2,300 from the 2017 CHF Canada Regional Diversity Grant.

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