Kenora, Ontario, is home to the area’s largest curling club, boasting six sheets of ice catering to a diverse membership of all ages and abilities: Kenora Curling Club. Before the pandemic, the centre hosted curling activities that served 1,200 people each season.
“We have little rocks, men, women, youth, and seniors, and we have a few wheelchair curlers as well,” Andrea Ronnebeck, club president, said. “We try to reach anybody in the community that wants to come out and learn how to curl—that’s who we’re looking for.”
As with so many sport clubs, COVID-19 had a detrimental impact on their membership, dropping participation to about 320 curlers. In response, the club had to think creatively about how to boost their numbers once things started to level out in our new, post-pandemic normal.
As a member of the Ontario Curling Council, Ronnebeck saw Sport for Life’s COVID-19 Micro-Grant come through her inbox—and immediately flagged it as an opportunity for Kenora’s club. “I thought this would be great for the general curling club for us to try to train some people, first of all, to teach curling and entice, perhaps some new members, and we specifically tried to target more diversity.”
Community connections and welcoming environments
With a successful grant application, Ronnebeck reached out to the different employers in town to recruit participants, particularly those who are New to Canada, to try curling.
In the meantime, the funding supported training 11 club members on how to teach curling—and, importantly, how to promote curling within the community and what the challenges and opportunities are for promotion locally. With a new cohort of trained instructors, Kenora Curling was able to run adult learning to curl, with about 25 brand new curlers coming out to try the sport—they even saw a few returning curlers who hadn’t been with the club since pre-pandemic, join and support the instructors in the program. While the turnout of New to Canada Participants wasn’t as high as they had hoped, future iterations of the program and more planning in the lead-up to their events promise higher engagement!
“We will definitely take the same approach and maybe cast a broader net because we’ll have a little more time to get organized right to try to recruit.”
Funding was also used to buy safety equipment such as grippers and head protectors which new curlers can continue to use following their Try It experiences, encouraging participants to return and continue with the sport. These have been added to a collection of brushes and sliders already available at the club.
Overall, the grant has made the club more visible in the community and has enabled people to feel more comfortable and safe while learning how to curl.
“We are just very grateful for the groundwork it did. It really did make our club safer and more inviting… this grant has enabled people to feel comfortable in two ways; one, feeling safe on the ice, and two, knowing that when they come out to try it, they’re going to be led by educated trained instructors,” Ronnebeck said. “Employers and employees are now aware that there are organizations within the community that are welcoming and we would love to have them come be part of our curling community.”
When it comes to their experience with the grant, Ronnebeck had some advice for similar clubs looking at funding opportunities:
- Give yourself as much time as possible! Have some plans in your back pocket, with flexible start and end points, for when grants do come along.
- If you can, given club capacity, build out a strategic and operating plan so that you can follow that for your club goals.
And when it comes to actioning your grants, no matter how big or small, she had the following suggestions:
- Use social media to promote your program!
- For community programs, take a poster with a QR code to local businesses; face-to-face interaction is beneficial in building community and putting a face to your organization!