In 2005, the City of Toronto began the Regent Park Revitalization Project to rebuild housing, support a vibrant community and create enjoyable spaces in the neighbourhood. A part of the early development was the Regent Park Aquatic Centre, offering recreational activities and classes.
However, registration is mostly online and has proved to be a challenge for many in Regent Park who have slower internet, fewer devices or language barriers – and were often left without spaces for themselves or their children.
YSM’s Community Development team brought these parents – mostly mothers – together to start developing a solution, and a way to create space for their community.
With passion and skills from Regent Park mothers and the support of YSM, the Access to Recreation group came into being.
The group secured a grant and hired Ismail. He drafted a proposal that the city’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation and local schools partner to send children to swim classes during school hours. Soon, the group garnered support from City Councillor Wong-Tam and the Economic and Community Development Committee.
After a long, grueling day where City Council initially rejected a key proposal, things turned around when members of the community arrived showing their support and one of the mothers was able to share her child’s story with Mayor Tory.
“I couldn’t believe it,” says Ismail, “Victory tasted so sweet!”
In the year since the approval, 400 kids from Regent Park have accessed the pool through the program.
There is still more work to be done. Ismail continues to work with the group on proposals aimed at changing policy; including adding the school partnership to the regular city budget, and making the registration process equitable across all social and economic backgrounds.