Collaborative policy work provides backdrop for lasting community partnership in Peterborough County
In 2011, Peterborough County-City Health Unit led a community discussion forum on physical activity, sport and recreation that identified as a top priority, provision of affordable and accessible recreation programs to encourage physical activity among City and County residents. Further supported by position and policy statements on affordable access to recreation from Parks and Recreation Ontario and Canadian Parks and Recreation Association, the Health Unit set out exploring how to address this need in their community.
A common desire brings about a new policy
Tasked with leading the access to recreation (ATR) initiative, health promoter Janet Dawson reached out to parks and recreation staff from all nine of Peterborough County’s municipalities to form a working group to explore this issue.
The working group quickly came to the decision that collaborating to create a county-wide policy on ATR would be the most efficient way to improve access in their individual municipalities. With a policy in place, there would be support and rationale to make ATR a fundamental component of any municipal recreation program.
A hired consultant researched other ATR policies across Canada and drafted a policy for Peterborough County. At the end 2013, the policy was finalized with full support by all municipal partners to apply it locally.
On September 30, 2014 the final ATR policy was passed. All nine member municipalities passed ATR policies in less than nine months.
This collaborative approach to ATR has also resulted in improved alignment and coordination of programs and services among municipalities, while improving efficiencies and maximizing resources.
“We are now presenting a clear front across the County…” - MATRG member
Effective working relationships evolve into a formal partnership
Initially there was some reluctance to collaborate on a county-wide approach as they felt their differences were too great. However after conducting assessments of each of their programs and facilities, they quickly discovered that they were experiencing similar challenges and while there was variance in how and where programs are delivered, the overall vision was consistent.
The meetings and interactions of the working group had an added benefit of providing members the opportunity to network with colleagues in similar fields.
After completion of the ATR policy development, they agreed to continue to work collaboratively on an ATR strategy in Peterborough as well as addressing other topics and issues related to ATR, such as playground design/safety, healthy community design.
In June 2014, the nine member municipalities, the Health Unit, and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport held a planning day to formalize the group. They are officially called the Municipal Access to Recreation Group (MATRG) and they have a formal terms of reference and meet bi-monthly.
“Collaboration and networking are the strengths of the initiative, and having a stronger voice by working together.” - MATRG member
Peterborough’s Municipal Access to Recreation Group when all nine municipalities had a ratified ATR policy
Work continues after the ATR policy adoption
In August 2014, Peterborough’s Municipal Access to Recreation Group (MATRG) was successful in receiving a grant from the Ontario Sport and Recreation Communities Fund. This grant funds a 2-year project that will focus on access to recreation with all of the sporting and recreation groups/providers in the City and County. Year one will focus on a needs assessment and year two will focus on capacity building.
After the Health Unit presented a snapshot of playground injury data collected from the local hospital, the MATRG decided to conduct a review of current parks and playgrounds to determine where improvements were needed. In addition, the MATRG will be researching design guidelines for healthy parks and playspaces to support the development of future parks. It is anticipated that this work will result in a policy or charter that will be adopted by all MATRG members.
They are also conducting a process evaluation of the MATRG network and are working with a consultant to develop a comprehensive evaluation plan for the network.
“This initiative is helping place recreation in a positive light at the municipal level. Rather than being seen as a drain on the system, recreation is being talked about as giving vitality to the community, making it a good place to live. And the payback is so great in so many ways.” - MATRG member
Application of a Community Development Model to Develop Policies to Improve Access to Recreation (ATR) in Peterborough County – Report includes a draft copy of the policy that was used by every municipality
Canadian Sport for Life article, "Peterborough County: Changing the Landscape of Municipal Recreation"