A produce vendor awaits his next customer during the monthly farm market at Royal Athletic Park. (Photo courtesy North Park Neighbourhood Association)

A produce vendor awaits his next customer during the monthly farm market at Royal Athletic Park. (Photo courtesy North Park Neighbourhood Association)

Victoria neighbourhood benefits from opening up of Royal Athletic Park

Free community programs at stadium aim to further connect North Park residents

Getting more use out of Royal Athletic Park, a city facility that sits vacant far more days than not, will directly benefit the community it sits in this summer.

The North Park Neighbourhood Association, through the support of the City of Victoria, is hosting a number of free community programs at RAP that reach out to area residents and others.

From its Monday evening (6 to 8 p.m.) art workshops to its busy Saturdays, featuring activity sessions for older adults (1 p.m.), arts and culture for women and girls with the mosque (2 to 4 p.m.) and kids soccer skills for age seven to 13 (6 to 8 p.m.), there’s plenty of reasons to check out the park.

Open drop-ins are 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays – the latter also features Picnic in the Park with Theatre Skam performances at 6:30 and 7 p.m. – and noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays.

Along with the monthly farmers’ market onsite, it all adds up to new experiences for many residents and Victorians, said North Park Neighbourhood Association executive director Sarah Murray.

“It’s a real paradigm shift for people to understand that Royal Athletic Park is available for free,” she said, rather than seeing it as a facility mostly locked up when no sporting events or other gatherings are happening.

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City council got on board recently with the idea of getting more use out of the facility.

In addition to winning a $7,500 City of Victoria strategic plan grant last month, the neighbourhood association was approved for a roughly $10,000 grant that essentially waives its park rental fees for the summer. It has been able to use the park free when city-run parks and recreation programs are happening at RAP, but would typically be billed for using the facility outside of those times, which will happen this year.

As Murray pointed out, not only is North Park one of few designated city neighbourhoods without a dedicated community centre, it has among the lowest amount of green space per capita in Victoria.

Without RAP, the total green space drops to 0.71 hectares per 1,000 residents, she added – the current city-wide parkland figure is 3.16 ha per 1,000 residents. That’s a big reason why being able to use RAP is so critical to the neighbourhood association’s offerings through the summer.

Coun. Sarah Potts, council’s liaison for North Park, said there’s plenty of potential for the city to increase the use of RAP.

“Even in 2019, the park was only used 30 per cent of the time,” she said. “It really speaks to the need to provide low-cost or free programming.”

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She appreciates the work the association has and continues to do to engage the community and partner with the city on recreational offerings in the park.

“It’s great to see what is possible. Sometimes we get stuck in status quo thinking, but this is the kind of innovative thought that really makes the city work well,” Potts said.

Murray was hoping to have a big sign mounted outside the park outlining all the summer programs available, but residents can also find the information online at npna.ca.


 

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