Five years ago, a group of a dozen people pioneered the first Zombie Walk in Welland. Although small in number, the actions of these few would influence many things in our community for the next few years.
What began as no more than a few friends with some creative time on their hands, and a desire to do something a little different, albeit considered weird and gruesome by some, slowly grew in size and scope over the years to eventually encompass the imagination and resources of the local media and photographers, businesses, and mostly the community. A truly grassroots event that is the Welland Zombie Walk is now becoming a tradition in our city’s downtown. This is the result of the work of a few volunteers donating time and effort, local businesses sponsoring the event (through either promotion, support with efforts and use of resources, or by the donation of goods and services to act as costume prizes), and larger organizations (such as the Downtown Welland BIA and the City of Welland). Besides the lure of a family-friendly fun evening that receives much local attention, this is also a testament to the next greatest resource our community has to offer besides the Recreational Waterway: social capital that may be achieved through civic engagement.
The inspiration for the initial event started years ago by a few friends was made in response to a feeling by many that the community at the time had little to offer its citizens. Years of the declining local industries and lack of jobs not only affected the economics of this city, but also the socio-economics: those that had few dollars, had little to do. I’ve heard many complain about not only the lack of income locally, but also the lack of things to do in spare time, with or without money. It was under these circumstances that a few in this community did find something to do, and that cost very little expense. Although initially a very tiny event, it grew immensely within a year, with over a hundred participating, and organized with no budget and very little organizational governance. It did not stop there: as the years went on, the event encompassed the idea of accepting donations to local charities, of encouraging local businesses to contribute products or services to be awarded as prizes to entice more participation, and the local media quickly caught on, also affecting the participation of the community. To this day, this event still has no official budget, no committee behind it’s planning, yet encompasses many different people at many different levels within our community.
Things did not simply end with a zombie walk in Welland, as this event was inspirational to some that had been at the initial event, but in other ways. As this event was grassroots, and volunteer-driven, it led an example in a new form of community action that is now becoming commonplace within this community: that regular people, if united by a common goal that is of benefit to the community and participants in some form, have the desire and personal means to accomplish such goals, they are able to do so. This has resounded in other examples locally in Welland: BLX is a group of artists that initially started when they pooled their resources and efforts to promote their own art in the community through a series of art shows, and now has grown to hosting and being involved in many art events and initiatives around Welland, as well as facilitating the BLXStudio in the Seaway Mall. These artists also continue to contribute these efforts back to the community, and do so with little no formal governance and no public funding. Another such example of this inspiration affecting other things in the community is Guerrilla Park. What began a s a few friends who voluntarily decided to maintain a small guerrilla garden in a neglected park space has blossomed into a reclaimed public space that has hosted art shows and become a known place for artists and musicians to gather, as well as those seeking some solace in the downtown core, to come and enjoy the natural surroundings and scenic view. Again, this was made entirely possible as the results of efforts and donated materials and resources by regular people, without any formal governance or committees and receiving not one cent in public funding.
In the past few years, there is a slowly growing movement within this community, of like-minded people gathering their own resources to accomplish common goals. Often, these goals are synonymous with local government and businesses to create a more inviting atmosphere locally, not only for our own citizens, but to entice investment into the area. We have all realized that the socio-economic health of this community is not simply related to what industries are here and can be attracted here, but what we ourselves wish to see and enjoy in this community, We cannot make this place attractive to outside investment if we cannot also enjoy the rewards of such efforts. We understand the importance in being in a livable community, and those contributions to having a livable community are usually the impact of the tremendous potential that exists in Welland’s social capital. It is becoming more and more apparent that this social capital is not only being recognized and acknowledged in the community at all levels, but will hopefully become part of planning for the future.
Who would’ve thought five years ago that the undead would bring some life back to the city?