A fresh coat of paint and a new vending machine may seem like minuscule things in an apartment building lobby, but for a group of residents at Paddington Station, they are clear signs that times are changing.
The 220-unit apartment complex has been through many challenges since it was built on the corner of 201A Street and Fraser Highway in 2009 — from mail theft and break-ins, to people sleeping in doorways outside.
But that all started to change last August, when a small group of residents hosted the complex’s very first block party.
Taking place in the building’s courtyard, the event — which featured a sponsored barbecue from Save-On-Foods, Jerome the Gnome from HomeLife Real Estate, face painting and karaoke — was created to help build a sense of community and safety among the residents.
But like many things in that building, the block party, too, faced some difficulties. It happened to take place the same day that wind gusts up to 90 km/h swept through the Lower Mainland, knocking down trees and cutting power to 500,000 people.
“All this crazy-sauce stuff was happening around us, and we were still going through with this (block party), and I thought that was the successful part,” recalled Donna Francis, president of the Paddington Station strata, who spearheaded the block party idea.
“It was a metaphor. Our building has some challenges, but we’re weathering the storm so to speak.”
And that block party was just the start.
Over the past year, Francis and her fellow strata council members — who jokingly call themselves “the Group of Seven” — have been working hard to take Paddington Station “from good to great.”
They hired a new management company and an on-site caretaker, have started the Paddington Socials Facebook Page, built a craft room for kids in the building to use and created a free library. They have even found three amenity rooms that no one knew existed, and plan to start a social committee to get people meeting each other more often.
Last Saturday (Aug. 20), they also hosted their second block party — and with sunny skies and temperatures hovering around 30 degrees — they doubled their attendance from the year before.
“(The block party) actually was our inspiration to continue to get going on this building and to fight the fight. And we are now in the midst of the total recovery — it’s so exciting now,” said Donna Moore, an owner in the building and member of the strata council.
“The community spirit is starting to come for the first time.
“You know, when I walked in here today, I really can’t tell you how different it feels. Two people walked up to me and said, ‘Hello.’”
Moore, who is a real estate agent, says she feels a personal obligation to make the building a great place to live. She got involved in Paddington Station before the ground was even broken, selling about 30 units and purchasing one for herself.
“It’s the pride of ownership, pride of where you live — it makes a difference,” Moore said.
“When it looks drabby, and sad and nothing is happening — that’s exactly what you come home to. When your place is exciting and fresh and new, that’s what you come home to. And that’s what everyone here deserves. It doesn’t matter if it’s a renter or an owner, good people live in this building.”
Candis Newell, another member of the strata council, who lives in the building with her husband and three-year-old daughter, says their council’s passion is starting to make a visible difference.
“We are trying to make it so that people feel like they belong here,” Newell said.
“I grew up in co-op (housing), so this is the feeling that I grew up with, and I always wanted that for my daughter … So it’s really exciting to see this happening.”
But that’s not to say bringing change has been easy. Although the crime has certainly calmed down “there’s still incidents happening. This isn’t, you know, Cinderella,” Francis said.
“You have so much of the pressure from the outside coming in, it’s like, why even bother? This City’s a dump, this place is a dump, these people are a dump. It’s kind of like, who cares? It’s all tenants.
“But no, it’s not. So I think it took a group to change the narrative and say, ‘No.’”
“I think (the owners) had just given up,” Newell added.
“They had thrown their hands in the air and given up, and now they’re saying , ‘Oh there is a possibility to turn this into an amazing, amazing place to live — a community.’”
Eventually, the groups hopes to expand their block party across the street to the buildings around them, and hopefully inspire other apartment complexes in the City to host similar events.
“I think what people don’t realize is that to build community, it actually takes time. And that’s why people give up,” Francis said.
“I have a vision that this place is going to be a seed that germinates and grows into a blueprint for another building to say, ‘Hey if they can do it, we can do it.’
“It doesn’t matter that it is Langley City, I am not even OK with people putting down Langley City. I’m telling you … this place is a mini Yaletown, and people have no idea — 100 per cent. This is a gem, this is a diamond in the rough. If people leave, they’re going to regret it.”
Photo: Donna Francis’ son, Nolan, hangs out with Jerome the Gnome at Paddington Station’s second block party last Saturday. Photo submitted by Donna Francis.