• Trevor Greenway

‘We are a community centre’

Irene Richardson envisions the Wakefield community centre buzzing with activity all day and all night.


Seniors’ workout and social classes during the day, kids programming after school and a roster of arts and culture shows for those who like a night on the town.

But to bring this vision into reality, the centre needs an additional $100,000 in funding per year, according to Richardson, who said the board of directors is now looking at ways of bringing that cash in from the community and other sources.


“We are a community centre,”Richardson told the Low Down. We want more arts and culture and also need to maintain the recreation programs. How do we do that? We need more support.”


Part of what is holding the centre back, according to Richardson, is staffing. The centre is in dire need of staff so they can open the doors every day from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. But to hire staff, the centre needs cash.


By Richardson’s calculation, adequately staffing the centre with a general manager, program coordinator, rental/event coordinator, bartender, technical assistants, and a maintenance worker would cost about $195,000 per year — money the centre doesn’t have.


The centre’s board of directors is now looking at alternative funding sources. From grants and cultural funds to yearly membership fees that would give locals some “perks.” Richardson also said the centre would soon be partnering with Ottawa Community Foundation and Outaouais Philanthropy to provide donors with the option of receiving a charitable tax receipt.


In 2021, the centre brought in $355,980 in revenue, including $315,000 in grants alone.


Bar sales were zero in 2021 due to pandemic restrictions, but the centre was able to bring in close to $25,000 in programming income and rental revenue. Expenses for the year ran up to $365,149, leaving a deficit of $8,118 after dividend and interest income were tallied. Richardson explained there is only approximately $1 million left to be paid on the mortgage of the building. The community centre’s book value is $4.2 million. She added that 2022 numbers are already looking better.


In terms of cash flow, the centre is in good financial shape, said Richardson, noting that at the end of 2021, their end-of-year cash flow was $173,400, compared to the $60,609 left over in 2020.


The municipality chips in $95,000 per year to operate the municipal library and has done so since the centre opened in 2011. The community centre in Wakefield boasts a library, the gorgeous Gwen Shea Hall, which is a premier theatre venue, multiple studio rooms, a bar and a hopping youth centre.


Following a presentation on the centre’s future at the 10th-anniversary party earlier this spring, rumours began to circulate that there was a push on to turn Centre Wakefield La Pêche into a regional cultural centre.


While the MRC floated this idea in 2020, nothing to that effect is imminent, said Richardson. While the centre is moving towards adding more “cultural” activities in the centre – theatre from Ottawa and Montreal, French artists from throughout the province and more notable performances – Richardson said that locals need not worry about losing their beloved community centre.


“This is a community centre – for the community,” she told the Low Down. “Are we going to lose the building? No, but we need support.”


Centre Wakefield La Pèche director-general Blair Mackay was hired in December of last year to help bring some of these ideas to fruition.


The career musician and music festival director said he hopes to turn the centre into a draw for more than just locals, but also tourists coming in from Ottawa and Montreal (See story page 3).


But more than just programming, Mackay was given the mandate to maintain the building and is working on a new lighting and sound system for the Gwen Shea Hall, as well as several other tweaks that will make the building more efficient.


“After 10 years, it needs some change, just like anybody’s house does,” added Mackay. “The common denominator is the building. So, if we focus on that, I think we will be able to move ahead so that the next 10 years are better… And improving where it needs to be improved — physically and direction-wise. Really, that’s all it is. Fine-tuning, fixing things up.”


But for this all to work, the centre needs local buy-in from the community. Board member Carly Woods told the Low Down that contributing to the centre’s future is as simple as going to a local event.


“We still own our centre… and we need our community to pitch in,” she said. “So, whether you are donating time to a program, that is pitching in. Going to movies, taking part in events is pitching in.”


The centre’s board of directors will be holding a visioning presentation this fall. During its annual general meeting in September, the board will update everyone on the financial picture, any new funding models, and new classes and courses for the fall.