Revolutionaries Wanted, Please Apply Within

Category: community 630

How The Ville is building, teaching and revitalizing a community through openness and inclusivity.

Jules Maitland

Described as a combination of the Charlotte Street Art Center and Greener Village, and modelled on international social innovation hubs such as The Plant in Chicago and Headspace in Australia, The Ville has a mighty heart and grand plans. Not just your run of the mill community centre, it is a cooperative of like-minded individuals, NGOs, and businesses who have joined forces to change the narrative of New Brunswick: to strengthen and empower communities to be self-determined, self-sufficient, compassionate, and collaborative.

Located in the old Alexander Gibson Memorial School on Canada Street in Marysville, the facility includes aquaponic and organic gardens where you can learn how to ‘grow your own’, an indoor climbing wall, and a gym that houses multiple sports leagues, multigenerational martial arts, yoga, and zumba. Across the hall you can take music lessons, participate in sewing and crafts, and learn how to do woodwork, 3D printing, and electronics in the makerspace workshop. A playground at the front of the building is open to all. There are no security fences or lockable gates, everyone is welcome.

“If we can give kids a voice, and actually listen to what they have to say, then we can really affect change.”

The Ville places an emphasis on openness, on inclusivity, on breaking down barriers. Founder and director Jeff MacFarlane recalls being advised to equip the building with security cameras and bars to protect it from the inevitable impact of vandalism. He resisted, believing that policing the grounds would only serve to breed negativity between the cooperative and the youth in the community. He spent the first few days perched on the roof of the building, watching whoever came to use the playground, and observing which of them initiated attempts to damage the property. Then, instead of reporting them to the police or banning them from the grounds, he did the unthinkable. He approached them and explained to them that he was trying to build this resource for them. He asked them what they wanted it to be. He listened to them, and then he gave them what they asked for. There has been no vandalism since. “If we can give kids a voice, and actually listen to what they have to say, then we can really affect change.”

When asked what his vision for the future was, MacFarlane described a Marysville powered by renewable energy, with an edible landscape providing food security to a community of informed and empowered youth, adults, and elders. He believes that one of the biggest barriers to realising this vision is a lack of trust in the greater community that such a change is possible. “People have to trust that we have the ability to make a difference, that we can change. New Brunswick doesn’t have infinite economic resources, we are not Silicon Valley, but we are compassionate, and we are social innovators.”

The old school building itself is symbolic of the capacity to change. Doors on either side are remnants of a bygone age when boys and girls entered through separate doors to receive their schooling in single sex classes. A lot has changed since then, but the doors remain labelled “Boys” and “Girls” as a reminder that change is possible; that the unthinkable can become the norm if people are willing to stand up for what they believe is right, think outside the box, engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue, and take action to help make change happen.

The grounds of The Ville emit a positive vibe, an old school community feel of wanting to do things together for each other and for the greater good. Having first opened its doors in August 2015, activities are gaining momentum and awareness is spreading. An as yet unrealised goal of the initiative is the creation of a youth drop-in centre, a safe space where children and teens can go, unplug, and “just be”. In order to make that happen, The Ville needs more people to volunteer their time; to be present in that safe space, be approachable, be non-judgemental, read a book, play a boardgame, listen. These small acts can make a huge difference in the life of a child, which in turn can make a huge difference to the life and spirit of a community. Who’s in?

Anyone interested in volunteering or renting space at The Ville is encouraged to email info@theville, call (506) 472-7799, or pop by in person between 9am and 5pm.

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