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“We are glad to have Atira and their programs on our site as their work is consistent with our own diocesan social outreach and compassionate service goals. We look forward to this partnership and the difference that it will make in the lives of women in our community.”- Bishop Michael Ingham, May, 2012
 
The morning of Tuesday, November 27th, 2012, the entrance to the narthex of St. Margaret’s of Scotland in Burnaby was decorated with two sets of coloured balloons directing the speakers, guests and media to the location of the Opening Ceremony and Sign Unveiling. The balloons were blue and yellow which may have been coincidence but whether it was or it wasn’t, many thanks to Laura Kohli, Event Communications Manager at BC Housing for providing that bright and welcoming touch in diocesan colours.
The narthex of St. Margaret’s of Scotland is a recent renovation and is really more in the style of a modern multi-purpose lobby. The lights, fixtures, flags and signage put in place for the event turned the space into the perfect venue.
Women in Burnaby and New Westminster in need of safe, affordable housing now have new options at Elspeth Alley Housing for Elder Women in Burnaby.
As was reported on page 2 of the Summer 2012, issue of Topic and also on the website last May this new housing is a result of an agreement between the Diocese of New Westminster and Atira Women’s Resource Society to operate a 23-apartment women’s residence in the former Abbeyfield House on the grounds of St. Margaret’s. Discontinuing the Abbeyfield presence and moving into this new partnership with Atira and BC Housing was not done capriciously. There were long meetings and emotional conversations around the Abbeyfield Board table with the diocesan business team. The results of months of discussions concluded that the existing Abbeyfield program was no longer viable due to changes in demographics, limiting the amount of potential residents. Without a near capacity complement of residents, Abbeyfield was not sustainable and unable to meet its financial responsibilities. The result celebrated at the November 27th opening is a very positive outcome of a very difficult transition for this excellent and well-maintained facility.
Diocesan Treasurer Ian Robertson with support from the diocesan legal team, (Legal Assessor, Jennifer Dezell, and Registrar, Don Paul), Diocesan Business Administrator, Rob Dickson, and Management Consultant, Gerry Moulds assessed the situation and went into negotiations with Atira Women’s Resource Centre. Assistant Treasurer for the diocese, Jim Stewart was one of a team of four from the diocesan Administration and Finance Committee (A&F) who were also instrumental in the Abbeyfield transformation. The B.C. government came on board and provided Atira with $33,871 in one-time costs to complete capital improvements and for start-up costs. In addition, the B.C. government will provide annual operational funding of $165,000 for the provision of support services. The Diocese of New Westminster will lease the land to Atira at a nominal rate for 44 years.
The apartments will be designated for elder women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. In addition to the apartments, the building includes a common kitchen and amenity space including living and activity rooms.
 
Support services will include a 24/7 live-in co-ordinator, life skills education and training and treatment support.
Atira proposed that the facility be named after a female priest and they proposed two names to Ian Robertson. Ian passed the suggestions on to the Executive Archdeacon of the diocese, The Ven. Ronald Harrison. Archdeacon Harrison made his recommendation with the result that the partners all agreed the new facility be named Elspeth Alley Housing for Elder Women after The Rev. Elspeth Alley, the first woman to be ordained in the Diocese of New Westminster, November 30th, 1976, also the day when the first ordinations of women took place across Canada.
There were more than a dozen people present at the 10am opening representing the Diocese of New Westminster. Bishop Michael had sent his regrets as he had been booked many months previously to attend a National Church outreach conference in Ontario. In the bishop’s absence two representatives were present, The Very Reverend Dr. Peter Elliott, Dean and Rector of Christ Church Cathedral and Dean of the Diocese of New Westminster and The Venerable Dr. John Bailey, Archdeacon of Westminster and Rector of Holy Trinity Cathedral, New Westminster. Also in attendance were: The Rev. Paul Bowie, Priest-in-Charge of St. Margaret’s of Scotland, The Rev. Lilian Elliott, Deacon of St. Margaret’s of Scotland, The Rev. Stephanie Shepard, Incumbent of St. Timothy’s, Burnaby, Rob Dickson, Diocesan Business Administrator, Ian Robertson, Diocesan Treasurer, Gerry Moulds, Management Consultant and members of the St. Margaret’s congregation.
Dean Peter Elliott spoke on behalf of the diocese and in his brief address he stressed that housing the homeless is “core to our work as a church.” It is extremely important to provide housing for the marginalized in what is the most expensive housing market in Canada and on behalf of the diocese he is delighted by this partnership.
Peter continued with a personal reflection of The Rev. Elspeth Alley whom he knew very well. “Elspeth Alley is a heroine of the Anglican Church of Canada and it is wonderful that she is being honoured in this way.” He went on to say that this naming honour is particularly special because this is a housing opportunity for women. Elspeth Alley was passionate about women’s rights and women’s issues.
Richard Lee, MLA for Burnaby North gave the Introduction and was MC for the event. Harry Bloy, MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed and Deb Jack, Board Member, Atira Women’s Resource Society with Dean Peter Elliott were the speakers. Harry Bloy thanked the Anglican Church and Atira and applauded their partnership. Deb Jack began her address by supplying a little background about Atira. The society was founded in 1983 and not only supplies safe housing but also provides support, counseling and advocacy opportunities for women living in perilous circumstances.
 
Images: Top and homepage, The MLA's reveal the offical sign as the two partners look on. Upper left, guests gather in the lobby of St. Margaret's of Scotland.  Upper right, Richard Lee, MLA, MC for the event. Middle left, The Very Reverend Peter Elliott speaks on behalf of the bishop and the diocese. Lower left, the diocesan business team, Ian Robertson, Rob Dickson, Gerry Moulds. Lower right, Deb Jack, Board Member , Atira Women's Resource Society, Harry Bloy, Richard Lee, Dean Peter Elliott