Developing a sense of community can be difficult when your closest neighbours are some kilometres up the road. Residents of Vulcan County feel this isolation a little less, thanks to a project of the Vulcan Business Development Society (VBDS).
To bring county residents closer together, representatives from the VBDS came up with a plan to connect the communities within Vulcan County through a unified social media, website, and community relations strategy.
The VBDS was the recipient of the first grant from the Community Foundation’s Henry S. Varley Fund for Rural Life, which provided the project with start-up funding.
“We know that people make major decisions based on online impressions and information,” said Marilyn MacArthur, the manager of the VBDS. “We see this as a business development tool as much as we see it bringing people together. We already have a number of remote workers and entrepreneurs in our area, and with a more unified and contemporary online presence, they can be as competitive in their business as someone in a larger centre.”
MacArthur added that the ultimate goal of the project is to help people combine a rural lifestyle with an urban online presence. “We wanted to ensure that people who visit or consider a move to our county, no matter where they choose to live or work within it, would see not only consistent information, but know that they would have access to the same level of online services available in a larger centre.”
The van der Merwe family represents a new generation of Vulcan County residents. From South Africa, Frans, Anneke, and their children traded life by the South Atlantic Ocean for life on the prairies. Moving first to rural Saskatchewan in 2011, they settled in Arrowwood in 2014 to be closer to Frans’s job.
“When you decide to move to a new place, or country, the first thing you do is go online and see what you can find out about the place you’re moving to,” said Anneke van der Merwe. “We are happy that Arrowwood has the school, park, library, skating rink, and businesses. It makes it easier to live in a smaller town when these services are closer or more available, but it was very difficult for us to find these places online conveniently.”
In the spirit of building community, van der Merwe started her own business, a day home, and began to communicate with her new neighbours through social media. “Along with the village’s Facebook page, people have started community pages and buy-and-sell pages,” van der Merwe said. “This has helped a lot to unofficially connect people with current events.”
Under the unified web system, MacArthur says that each community has the flexibility to share its unique features and services, while being part of the county as a whole—something she believes will serve the county’s nearly 7,000 residents and 15 communities well into the future.
PHOTO: Anneke van der Merwe and her family recently settled in Arrowwood, AB. Originally from a community near Cape Town, South Africa, the van der Merwes are like many new residents to Vulcan County who are looking forward to an improved web and social media presence.