“As we explored current economic and population trends we became more and more alarmed,” Ivany wrote of Nova Scotia’s prospects. “The evidence is convincing that Nova Scotia hovers now on the brink of an extended period of decline.”
Streaming the report launch in her office, McLean-Wile, the owner of Wile’s Lake Farm Market & Bakery, was left troubled but motivated.
“After it was over, I said, ‘I just can’t sit here anymore and think that somebody is going to do something. Why shouldn’t I try to do something?’” she recalled. “That was the start of it.”
The “it” McLean-Wile refers to is Now Lunenburg County, an initiative formed by her and four other local business owners.
The aim of the initiative is as easy to describe as it is difficult to achieve: to promote local solutions to the many problems and issues outlined in the Ivany report. Following the report’s release, McLean-Wile and her fellow collaborators met to discuss how they could, locally, respond to the report.
“It had to be action from ordinary people,” McLean-Wile said. “And this wasn’t going to be about talk. This was about getting something done that would make a difference in our community.”
Initially, however, the group struggled with how to avoid traditional approaches that, in the words of McLean-Wile, “haven’t gotten us very far.”
They settled on holding a large community gathering but were unsure of who to invite. For instance, how many politicians should they ask to attend?
The group settled on a by-invitation-only gathering of what McLean-Wile calls the “doers, influencers and decision-makers of Lunenburg County.” As for the meeting’s format, they decided to spurn “conservative and traditional” in favour of “edgy and innovative.”
That edginess presented itself in the form of Tim Merry, a United Kingdom expatriate who lives in Lunenburg County and works as a change leadership consultant for groups and companies across North America and Europe.
It is difficult to describe exactly what Merry does. On May 13, at the Now Lunenburg County event, he was part host, part motivational speaker. He brought life to an event that could have easily been staid and unmemorable.
The one-day session, held at the Blockhouse firehall, drew more than 100 people. It started with a discussion of the questions facing Lunenburg County. Among the questions posed: What will it take to motivate our citizens to action? How can we attract and support young families? Are we afraid of bold new ideas? How can we expect growth when we can’t even sustain the status quo?
There was also a discussion of the root causes behind the county’s woes. A fear of change and a lack of communication and collaboration were cited. The gathering, which included community leaders, small-business owners and some town mayors, culminated with a call for projects or proposals that could benefit the county. Eighteen proposals emerged, covering topics from tourism to municipal governance, public transit and the arts.
Each proposal was assigned a project lead. Leena Ali emerged as the leader of a group looking to create a series of events for young people.
The project is in its infancy and doesn’t yet have a name, but an initial event — focused on citizen engagement in the democratic process — is tentatively planned for September.
Ali, 23, was the youngest person at the Now Lunenburg County event. She’s now seeking other young people to help plan events, such as concerts, festivals or workshops.
Ali grew up in Mahone Bay and now lives in Bridgewater.
“Sometimes it can be boring here for a young person, and it can be kind of isolating at times,” she said. “So we want to come up with something where young people can really take part in the community and have fun.”
The Now Lunenburg County initiative is unique, compared with similar, previous efforts because it is about more than a single event. The project leaders meet as a group once a month to discuss their projects and share ideas. There will also be three community gatherings over the next few months. That activity will culminate Oct. 15 with what Merry and the organizers are calling Now Lunenburg County 2.0. That event will be used to present progress reports on the individual projects, as well as the larger goal of creating change in Lunenburg County.
The October event will also provide an opportunity for new projects to be presented. The goal is to hold such events every six months. “It’s a process that is constantly iterating and redesigning itself based upon where we are,” said Merry, now under contract to manage Now Lunenburg County.
The initiative has a budget of $35,000 that is expected to push it through to the October conference. That funding is flowing from the Lunenburg County Community Fund, a foundation comprising private money.
“It makes me really happy that there is no government money. There is a really strong feel that if this is of the community, then the support must come from the community,” Merry said. “We don’t want somebody from far away deciding what we do in our community. We want to be able to dictate that. And that means the money must come from here.”
The biggest challenge at this point, he said, is in ensuring the enthusiasm generated at the May kickoff doesn’t evaporate.
“We want to ensure this does not become one of those things that just fizzles out. The great thing is that none of the current projects are dependent on us. The purpose of Now Lunenburg County is not to do things for people. It’s to create the conditions for them to do what they’re already doing more successfully. We’re not here with solutions. We’re here with the infrastructure and conditions that make your success more likely.”
Quentin Casey is an author and journalist based in Mahone Bay.