For some, the thought of a large group of people meeting to discuss and reach consensus on varying issues in a community is daunting, but Fredericton’s Great Gathering proves that not only is this possible, it can bring concrete change.
On March 15, the Greater Fredericton community will be welcomed to the Fredericton Capital Exhibition Centre to partake in the third Great Gathering – an open space forum that tackles the question of “How can we work together to make Fredericton better?”
The event is hosted by Greater Fredericton Social Innovation Inc. (GFSI) of which UNB is a member.
“[The Great Gathering] is a large-scale consensus decision-making model. It brings together all the different energies of the community into some kind of harmony,” said Dennis Atchison, co-chair of the event.
“People choose which topics they want to discuss. It’s an opportunity to get the community together to discuss their different passions.”
In the spirit of an open space forum, the agenda is created by the participants. All discussion is based on what the participants bring to the table.
“No agenda, no expectations – whoever comes are the right people, whatever happens is the right thing and so we don’t really know what’s going to come out of it. It’s up in the air,” said Jamie-Leigh Haughn, volunteer and community development coordinator of GFSI.
Topics of discussion can range everywhere from food and affordable housing to strategies for preventing homelessness.
This will be Fredericton’s third Great Gathering. Past events have resulted in the creation of organizations such as the Greater Fredericton Volunteer Centre and the New Brunswick Community Gardens. The Bulk Food Bag Program introduced to UNB this year is also a direct result from a Gathering.
As members of the community, students are encouraged to participate.
“This is an opportunity to give them a voice because they are going to have the chance to speak in front of people important in Fredericton,” Haughn said.
“It really does level the playing field and push towards concrete change,” Atchison said.
Students will also have the chance to learn something too.
“The students who’ve been involved [in past events] have had an opportunity to see community development in action and be a part of a large movement and feel that they’ve made an impact on the community,” said Shirley Cleave, UNBF’s associate vice-president academic and the university’s representative on the Great Gathering planning committee.
“I think it’s a good chance for the university to be present in the community.”
Participating in the Great Gathering is simple as showing up with a willingness to share ideas and John Coates, the other co-chair of the event, said the event works best when people from all walks of life are involved.
“The more variety we can get in the room, the more effective the outcome,” he said.
The event will run on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Registration can be done online at Frederictongreatgathering.com or at the door.