The permanent closure of The Hub on Ross has deprived Jessica Swainson of a valuable social outlet.
Swainson, who has cerebral palsy, said on Monday she still gets together with one friend during the pandemic, but hasn’t seen most of her other companions since The Hub was permanently shuttered by the province last October.
“I miss my friends and some activities,” added Swainson. “I guess the biggest thing is I miss the social aspect of it…
“There are gaps that are not filled.”
The City of Red Deer and the Red Deer Arts Council have been working together to try to fill the holes left by The Hub’s closure with new programming for people with disabilities.
Conversations were started last fall with friends and family of former clients. The goal was figuring out how to keep providing inclusive arts and culture opportunities, said Bobby-Jo Stannard, superintendent of Community development for the City of Red Deer.
Talks also centred around finding an appropriate space — and the YMCA – which operates the Northside Community Centre, was identified as a potential partner.
Suzanne Hermary, executive-director of the Red Deer Arts Council, said some classrooms were built into the Northside Community Centre, but art or theatre instruction doesn’t fit into the YMCA’s “wheelhouse.”
The city and arts council are exploring whether former Hub programs, such as Strum and Drum, theatresports, and mixed-media art, can be held at the community centre if they are run by an independent organization, Hermary added.
As for which group would run these, Hermary said the Red Deer Arts Council’s mandate is to help connect professional artists with various learning opportunities, so an off-shoot branch of the council will likely need to be formed to handle programming geared towards the disabled.
She noted discussions are in the “early days,” but the hope is to have some of these programs re-started for September.
Jason Steele, a former staffer at The Hub, hopes the popular programs can be resurrected as soon as the pandemic allows.
“I definitely know there are more affected people out there,” who have not found social or recreational outlets since The Hub’s closure, Steele added.
While the Cosmos group of companies offers a range of life skills and recreational programs for those with disabilities, several former clients told Steele they feel their needs and interests fall somewhere between what Cosmos and the City of Red Deer are offering.
They liked that Hub programs were offered on a drop-in basis, he added. “They also liked (The Hub’s) access to the downtown and restaurants… it was a block-and-a-half from the main bus station…”
The Hub’s empty downtown building is now being prepared for sale by the provincial government. Hermary heard that the structure will be offered to the City of Red Deer before other potential buyers.
The central location would be convenient for some people, she said, but others who get rides, or rely on Action buses, can also access a northside location. Hermary believes the other advantage of the YMCA-operated building is there’s free parking nearby.