Welcome to our newest series “We Are Co-ops” in which we profile our diverse membership and demonstrate the innovation that the flexible co-op model supports and enables! This week, our Co-op Champion Madelyn Read connected with Vanessa Hammond, the Board Chair of Victoria Health Cooperative (VHC) to understand how they’re maintaining health and wellness support in their communities during COVID-19 and social distancing.
Who are Vanessa and Victoria Health Cooperative (VHC)?
Based in Victoria, BC, VHC is “a volunteer-run, not-for-profit co-op working to enhance the health and wellness of its Member-Owners and the wider community.” The co-op provides wellness programs, such as workshops and a health access fund, as well as educational opportunities to support health practitioners and community members.
Vanessa is a true life-long co-operator; she first joined a co-op as a young child selling eggs to the local co-op delivery van and has been a member of co-ops in nearly a dozen countries since. Most recently, she has been working with the VHC’s Board of Directors to determine how VHC can continue providing services to their members and communities during the pandemic. Primarily, this transition has centred on moving services and programs to online platforms.
How has the VHC addressed emergent challenges due to COVID-19?
Vanessa outlined that the most intuitive first step to moving VHC’s services online was offering a virtual version of their monthly Wellbeing Sunday workshops. They are also establishing online methods for fundraising to establish a Nurse Practitioners Clinic, for which they need $300,000.
However, other aspects of providing services online have proved more challenging. Notably, many of their volunteers are seniors who may not have sufficient access to technology, or lack knowledge for how to use it comfortably. In many cases, seniors have needed to invest in purchasing or upgrading their technology just to volunteer and stay connected, something Vanessa sees as an unfair burden to these vulnerable populations looking to voluntarily support their communities. In response, she has been advocating for financial support for these individuals. She also recognizes that support for these community members may just look different during the pandemic. Vanessa and another Board member have been cooking and delivering meals to and walking the dogs of these individuals that are unable to stay connected and get out of the house at this time.
Importantly, Vanessa highlighted how VHC’s objectives have had to shift slightly in response to COVID-19. VHC is currently prioritizing the needs of all community members, not just member-owners and providing services regardless of people’s ability to pay or donate. While donations are certainly welcomed, she emphasized that the priority must be on supporting everyone and ensuring that people have access to health and wellness resources.
“VHC is currently prioritizing the needs of all community members, not just member-owners and providing services regardless of people’s ability to pay or donate. While donations are certainly welcome, the priority must be on supporting everyone and ensuring that people have access to health and wellness resources.”
– Vanessa Hammond, Board Chair of VHC
What are some words of wisdom VHC can offer to other co-operatives?
Having worked in co-operative development for many years, there are two questions that Vanessa highlighted are crucial for cooperatives to consider especially in current circumstances: what is the essence of your service, and what is the part that really matters? For VHC, this has meant honing in on how they can best provide community health and wellness support with the current tools available to them.
How can people keep up-to-date with what VHC is doing?
To learn more about what VHC is up to, visit their website victoriahealthcooperative.com. VHC also welcomes anyone to attend their No-Touch Wellbeing Sundays as well as their partner society’s virtual AGM.