McMaster Office of Community Engagement
Finds a New Home
The Office of Community Engagement (OCE) at McMaster University officially opened the doors to its new space to the community in August 2023, and since then it has become a hub of activity. Betty Rice, CCECanada Communications Coordinator, spoke with Sashaina Singh, Senior Manager, OCE, about the move.
Q: Tell us a little about the history of the house.
Sashaina: The house was previously a residential home and McMaster acquired it in 2020. It was used as a space for folks visiting McMaster to stay and work from. As needs changed during the pandemic and OCE was looking for new space, the option for this house ticked a lot of boxes. It could house our growing team, was very close to campus but in the community, and had lots of potential to offer an accessible and inclusive space that could provide mutual benefit.
Over 2022 we had the space renovated to add in accessibility features such as an accessible washroom, accessible workspaces and a paved ramp access to the backyard. The upstairs bedrooms were made into offices and the basement into a larger meeting room that could also host hybrid meetings.
Q: When and how did the idea come to locate the Office of Community Engagement there? How did it come about?
Sashaina: First, wayfinding. The Office of Community Engagement was previously housed in a small space in the middle of campus. The office was difficult to find for folks unfamiliar with campus, and we worked with campus to improve wayfinding on campus to make it easier for community members to navigate. However, a searchable house address that leads directly to our space is much easier to find than trying to place us on a campus map.
We had also outgrown our existing space. We had a growing team. It was decided that we needed to find a better space to accommodate our staff so we could all work out of one place. The move allowed us to be just off campus and significantly demonstrates how we work to build bridges between McMaster and Hamilton communities.
Q: What are the benefits to having an “off campus” location for the CE offices?
Sashaina: A big benefit for staff and folks visiting the house for meetings and the like is the free and accessible parking! Also, we don’t have to look for space to book events and initiatives that we want to host. Our old campus space was limiting in that way. We now have Wi-Fi that community can connect to without needing a Mac ID to sign on.
The space doesn’t feel like a typical “office”; it feels more like a home and a comfortable space to gather. We’re able to meet outside of office spaces for meetings and meals – in the kitchen, the dining room, the library, the backyard.
And not being on campus has allowed us to provide a more relaxed environment for community to meet. It takes away from that institutional feel where folks may feel uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of beautiful and inviting spaces to meet on campus and the creation of these has been really intentional!
Q: What would you say to any other post-secs who may have a similar situation, a place that bridges campus and community? What do they need to know before moving forward?
Sashaina: Advocate for an adequate renovation budget – it is really important, especially in older homes. Renovations should include accessibility needs including bathrooms, accessible offices, widening of doorways, backyard access, etc. Have these conversations early on!
Timelines are an issue to be aware of. Renovations always take longer than expected and can be disruptive. Cost structure for space at a university and how is it maintained are key considerations, and agreements for paying for any and all of it is important to consider. Maintenance for old homes can be costly with unexpected things happening.
We were also intentional about the reuse of furniture – we wanted to keep the space looking like a house. Inside and out looks and feels like a house so it still fits into the community.
View a video tour of the site here.