It’s a testament to the power of volunteers to look at what has happened at the Ashcroft HUB since August 2015, when a group of community members decided that they were not going to let the former Ashcroft Elementary School building sit empty and go to waste in an area crying out for more space for groups of all shapes and sizes.
The Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society was one of the first groups to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the HUB. In summer 2015 we were planning our most ambitious theatre production to that date — My Fair Lady — and we knew that the Ashcroft community hall, which had served us faithfully for several years, simply wouldn’t be a suitable venue. When we heard that the former school was available — not just for the production itself, but for rehearsal space and storage as well — we leapt at the chance.
I vividly remember the first day we got keys to the building. It still looked like a school inside; the school my son had attended for eight years, and where I had spent a lot of time as president of the Ashcroft Elementary School Parent Advisory Council for several years (when you show up at your first PAC meeting as a first-time parent you kind of let yourself in for this sort of thing).
It took a long time for me to shake off that school feeling, but it wasn’t long at all before we realized that we had found the perfect venue for our increasingly ambitious productions. Other groups had the same feeling, and it was amazing to watch as more and more people moved in to make the HUB their home away from home. It was as if all kinds of folks had been sitting at home with dreams and plans, waiting for the right space to come along, and when it did they moved fast.
The building that had once echoed to the laughter and chatter of children took on a new life. There were still children there, of course; lots of them, attending camps, learning to cook and paint, taking up new sports, dropping in for after-school sessions. But there were other people as well, many of whom had quite possibly never set foot in the building until they came to do yoga or Zumba, use Merv’s Gym, mix with others at the social centre, learn Spanish or photography.
And the dancers! Every time WRAPS was in there for a rehearsal there were dancers, waiting in the hallway, warming up or chatting or making plans. Bursts of music would come out of the dance studio, and we’d hear the clatter of the tap dancers as they made their way up and down the hall. It was always as lively and bustling as it had been when it was a school.
I still think of it as a school: not in the classic desks in a row, eyes on the chalkboard way, but as a place where people of all ages now go to learn about all sorts of things: music, art, theatre, dance, sport, fitness, health, well-being, the world around them, and much more. It might not be used in precisely the way the builders and planners intended it, but I like to think they’d be happy that it’s still a place of education, in the best and fullest sense of that word.
“It’s a great idea, but I don’t think they’ll make it,” a longtime Ashcroft resident said to me back in the summer of 2015, as we talked about the ambitious plans those audacious, forward-thinking volunteers had announced for the school building. I can’t say I blame him, because it was such a big, bold idea, and there was no telling how it would play out. Well, we’ve all seen the result, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying I can’t imagine Ashcroft — and the entire area — without the HUB as a place of laughter and learning. Here’s hoping it will continue to ring with that laughter for many years to come.