City Living: Neighbourhood House gathers for Kitsilano housewarming

The brick plaza in front of Kits House was packed with people of all ages who came to celebrate its housewarming Saturday afternoon.

The demographic was a perfect reflection of the kind of community the neighbourhood house represents: seniors volunteered as tour guides, children raced about underfoot, adults gathered in groups with coffee mugs in hand, youth huddled together near the food truck.

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Charlotte Roch was one of the day’s volunteer tour leaders. Incidentally, Roch moved into one of the building’s new apartments so she was, in fact, giving tours of her new home.

“I’m excited about it. I live in a basement suite, ground level, and I realize I’m getting older so I want to be off the ground level,” said the 69-year-old. “And I wanted to be in a community and also be in an area that has really good bus services. This is off a busy street but it’s a busy residential area so I’m not walking the streets at night when it’s dark.”

As Roch showed off her bright one-bedroom apartment, she said that the inter-generational programs the house offers are a big draw; Kits House has everything from childcare and daycare to art classes for teenagers and cooking classes for new families to computer courses for seniors.  

Kits House is as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside, too. On the leafy residential street of West Seventh Avenue at Vine, the $19.5-million expansion and renovation includes a new modern building with bright programming rooms, much-needed seniors housing and a rooftop garden. It is bookmarked by the former St. George Greek Orthodox Church on the east corner, which Kits House has operated out of since the early 1970s, and the 1911 George Hay House with its fresh coat of paint — done in, naturally, a Vancouver Heritage Foundation-approved shade called Kitsilano Gold.

Inside, the buildings are so well designed by Kitsilano architect Sean McEwen that it feels like one, big updated home that has kept true to its historic roots (the exposed brick walls of the church are still visible, as is the piping), but doesn’t feel cramped or dark.

McEwen is no stranger to making the most of the city’s heritage roots; he was involved in the West End’s Mole Hill housing project in the 1990s that turned historic homes that would have otherwise been torn down into social housing.

Ken Annandale, one of the directors of Kits House, became involved in the neighbourhood house movement in the 1980s. He was an English teacher at Gladstone secondary and noted how much students benefited from volunteer work at the Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House.

“It provides services that aren’t usually accessible for some of the residents who either don’t have a lot of money or don’t always have the wherewithal to advocate for themselves,” he said.

Kits House board chair Tamara Little agrees. “We have people who may not be financially at risk, but they are socially at risk,” she said. “We have more senior women in Kitsilano than any part of the city.”

A widowed senior showed up at Kits House earlier in the day’s celebration and she ended up walking away with volunteer forms, Little added. “So, really, for her this is a housewarming experience and now we have a connection to her and this is what this is all about.”

Kits House is truly about community, says executive director Catherine Leach.

“Know your neighbours, support each other. It matters in all areas of the city, including the West Side,” she said.

rvblissett@gmail.com

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