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A Day in the Life of The Redpoll Centre

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It is hard to believe that The Redpoll Centre at Shell Place will soon be two years old.  It seems like yesterday that we frantically put all the pieces together and got our occupancy permit.  That was June 1, 2015.


What is The Redpoll Centre?  Great question.  It is a shared nonprofit space located on the second floor of Shell Place administered by The United Way of Fort McMurray.  We are the anchor tenant, meaning that we manage the space.  

The lights turn on at about 7:15 am.  I am usually the first person to arrive as I have to drop my older son off at the downtown bus depot around that time.  I’m an early morning person, and enjoy walking around the facility, getting things ready for the day.  The first order of business is to make coffee.  We have one of those commercial coffee makers.  With the large number of people who work here - 44 if every single work station is occupied - and many more who come here for meetings and workshops, we go through a lot of coffee.

Action starts to pick up around 8 am as the United Way staff begins arriving.  We officially operate between 8 am - 4 pm, though there are many days when we are hard at work before and after those hours.  By the time 9 am rolls around, most of the other agencies who maintain regular office hours are at their desks.  

On this particular day, guests start arriving just before 8 am for the United Way’s Agency Partners’ Round Table.  The Conference Room rapidly fills up with executive directors, board chairs, and team leads from several dozen agencies.  With seating capacity for 40, the Conference Room is one the busiest social profit meeting spaces in the community.  The room hosts myriad meetings, conferences and workshops ranging from learning sessions as part of the FuseSocial Academic Calendar to much of the post-fire recovery work that is happening with the Social Recovery Task Force, Wellness Committee, and many others.

The room, equipped with a kitchenette, is able to be used independently from the rest of The Redpoll Centre.  Guests come and go using a door that leads directly to the public hallway.

“The Conference Room is great in terms of its central location,” said a former social profit worker who organized a workshop in the room.  “The low rental cost, access to parking and everything provided in terms of multimedia equipment makes The Redpoll Centre so valuable.  The kitchen was great for our breaks and lunch.”

The Redpoll Centre is home to 16 different organizations ranging in size from 9 individuals to single person operations.  One of our tenants, KidSport Wood Buffalo, is one hundred percent volunteer run.  Their members pop in to do work early in the morning before heading off to do their regular jobs.  Tenants get professional office space and access to a number of shared amenities.  The costs are very reasonable thanks to support from United Way - The Redpoll Centre is a capacity building initiative - and the Suncor Energy Foundation, who helps subsidize all the common space.

A number of agencies came over to our Shell Place location from the original home of The Redpoll Centre on Franklin Avenue including The United Way of Fort McMurray, Alzheimer Society, Support Through Housing Team, Safe Communities Wood Buffalo and Spinal Cord Injury Alberta.  We were joined by Arts Council Wood Buffalo, Centre D’accueil et D’etablissement, Centre of Hope, Critical Incident Stress Management, Fort McMurray Search and Rescue, Fort McMurray Swim Club, Habitat for Humanity, HIV North Society, KidSport, MS Society of Canada, and St. Aidan’s Society. 

Designed to make maximum use of space, The Redpoll Centre was constructed using modular wall technology.  The use of lots of glass enables natural light to flow into every corner of the facility, including the Barb Jewers Reflection Room and Resource Library.

“We wanted to create a space where people could go to take a moment’s pause or have a meeting that requires privacy,” said Diane Shannon, former Executive Director of The United Way of Fort McMurray.  

This room gets used multiple times throughout the day.  I can’t tell you exactly what it is being used for on this particular day.  By its very nature, none of us are privy to what’s happening when the doors are closed.  It could be that someone is taking a few minutes of quiet and contemplation.  Or, maybe a meeting is taking place that isn’t appropriate for our other spaces that are very transparent.

We also have a number of smaller meeting rooms that are often in use: the Collaboration Room and the Mary-Anne Warren Innovation Room.  These rooms comfortably seat 8 people each and are perfect for smaller board meetings, brainstorming sessions and staff meetings.  They are also great places to pop into when guests drop by.  As an example, I had two visitors from Royal Roads University visit on this day.  We spend an hour talking about their research project around giving youth a voice in the recovery phase of the Fort McMurray wildfire disaster.

Other agencies can often be seen meeting with stakeholders, board member and clients, including Arts Council Wood Buffalo.

“In any given week, Arts Council Wood Buffalo meets with a variety stakeholders,” said Diana Moser, Interim Executive Director. “These can be members of the arts community, cross sector partners, and government representatives. Having access to such a variety of meeting spaces allows us to be responsive to meeting requests as they arise and the needs of our diverse stakeholders.” 

A relatively new representative arts organization, Arts Council Wood Buffalo is enjoying the sense of place and connection afforded by being a part of The Redpoll Centre.

“These meeting spaces have also given us a professional space to meet and have helped establish The Redpoll Centre as the home-base for the Arts Council,” said Moser.  “Being centrally located at such a community hub makes us more accessible to our membership and also increases the number of stakeholders that just pop by to say hello or have a quick cup of coffee. This has helped deepen our relationships in the community.”

The heart of The Redpoll Centre is the lunch room, where happy collisions happen every day as people fuel up with the morning coffee or their lunch.  Most of the tenants live on the opposite end of town and pack lunches.  

“One of the things I love about The Redpoll Centre is the sense of community that it creates,” said Valerie Winters, Executive Assistant, The United Way of Fort McMurray.  “I love coming to work each day because of the amazing people who are part of our flock, and so many others who come here for meetings.”

The lunchroom has turned out to be a great multi-functional space.  On days when all the formal meeting rooms are in use, it serves double duty as a meeting space.  It is also a great social space for special events.  Shortly after re-entry and re-opening of The Redpoll Centre, it played host to a pancake breakfast for tenants and social profit partners.

Throughout the day, agencies are talking with each other, sharing ideas and lending a helping hand.  These natural acts of connection and collaboration happen organically and consistently.  They have resulted in new and unexpected partnerships, projects and community impacts. 

“The model is really working,” shared Cecilia Mutch, Executive Director, The United Way of Fort McMurray. “We witness daily networking and strengthening of our community as agencies and individuals pool resources, innovate and collaborate in an atmosphere which was designed specifically for this purpose.”
There are a total of 45 work spaces in the current configuration of The Redpoll Centre, 50 if you include additional drop down opportunities at the front counter and at the hot desk.  The occupancy has been at 90-percent, almost since the doors were officially open.  Occupancy is currently at 98-percent with one single work station available to lease.

“We are very pleased with the mix of organizations that have joined us,” said Maryellen Fenech, Finance and Operations Manager.  “In addition to social profit groups, we are home to arts, sports, recreation and cultural organizations.”

The Redpoll Centre is both a home and a destination.  You never know who will pop in from day to day.  Our Member of Parliament David Yurdiga has been known to drop by from time to time.  Premier Notley has been here on several occasions and used our Conference Room to listen to social project leaders about the challenges they are facing.  It is a place where positive collisions and collaborations happen every day.  When you bring good people together in a friendly and welcoming space, magical things happen.

After our Agency Partners’ Round Table we welcome local media into the Conference Room to hear the final results from our Community Campaign.  The room features tables and chairs that are on casters and easily reconfigured.  This has proven to be one of the most appreciated aspects of the meeting space, as meeting facilitators can move things around to set things up the way they want.

The Redpoll Centre welcome desk closes at 4 pm, but activity in the centre continues late into the night.  Tenants and outside agencies and organizations access the Conference Room during off-hours.  It is available to rent if you’re ever in need of a great meeting space.  Just call our Redpoll Animator at 780-791-007, ext. 3000 to arrange things.

Our Community Investment Committee volunteers are hard at work to close out this day, preparing final allocation recommendations for the United Way board of directors.  

The lights get shut off around 10 pm and The Redpoll Centre day comes to an end.  It has been about 15 hours of meetings, workshops, conversations and work being done to make the community stronger.  This was an average day, if you could call any day average; some days are busier and others are quieter.  

The Redpoll Centre has become the epicentre of good people coming together to impact our community in a positive way through their work in the social profit sector.  The lights are off, the facility secured, and everyone has gone home.  Tomorrow will start bright and early as I put the coffee on for another day.


Photos by Cheryl Tang


Russell is a 19 year resident of Wood Buffalo, a community builder, facilitator, social media practitioner, actor, director and artist. He began his Middle Age Bulge blog as a way of capturing his journey to wellness. It has morphed into a daily journal about all aspects of life in the north. Russell works with The United Way of Fort McMurray and co-owns Birdsong Connections with his wife Heather.