The County of Wellington is trying to find inclusive ways to make newcomers and immigrants feel welcomed and supported while living and working in the county.
Many immigrants and newcomers face barriers that limit them from interacting with other communities, which ultimately, make them feel like outsiders.
“I came straight from China to Fergus in 1994, and I have never had any problems with any of the residents here -- everyone is very friendly and kind,” said Zhuohui Tan, a local Fergus resident and the owner of Black and White Chinese restaurant in Fergus.
“However, I have an accent and I can’t speak English very well. This makes it difficult for me to communicate with them, and because of this, sometimes, there are misunderstandings.
"Sometimes, this barrier makes me feel like an outsider, even though people here are the kindest people I have ever met.”
Tan is not alone.
In the welcoming and inclusion assessment survey report done by the County of Wellington’s economic development committee, some of the new immigrants interviewed said they speak very little English. Although it is a great improvement since arriving in Canada, this can make them feel like outsiders.
Since 2015, the county has been actively promoting itself as a place to live and work; however, despite ongoing efforts, gaps still remain locally in terms of community and employer engagement with newcomers and immigrant communities.
The report stated that some employers have not yet fully tapped into the newcomer talent pool, or recognize the important skills and experiences immigrants bring to the workforce.
Likewise, many residents do not understand nor appreciate the important role that new immigrants play in helping revitalize their communities.
Crystal Ellis, director of economic development for County of Wellington, presented the survey report to the economic development committee at Tuesday’s meeting.
“It was a great practice to be able to understand what challenges and difficulties that we have in Wellington County,” said Ellis. “We have created an action plan in order to make the county a better place to live for everyone.”
A total of 327 newcomers and residents participated, and 65 businesses and organizations participated in the survey. Eighteen individuals were interviewed, eight of them were businesses and organizations and seven were newcomers and residents.
“Majority of the people we interviewed and surveyed said that the county is generally a very welcoming and inclusive place. However, we still have a number of immigrants and newcomers who experience challenges and barriers and we need to fix that,” said Ellis.
The report stated that approximately 75 per cent of the newcomers interviewed said Wellington County is a welcoming place. However, the remaining 25 per cent said that the communities where they reside or do business were not so welcoming.
Only 25 per cent agreed that Wellington County has developed the services required to address increased immigration.
Three out of four business and organization leaders, including one newcomer business owner, reported that they found it very hard to feel accepted as an outsider, and that understanding Canadian culture can be a major challenge.
As a result of these findings, the economic development committee created a welcoming and inclusion action plan that addresses four main streams: community welcoming initiatives; collaboration with businesses and employment support agencies; easier access to critical information and other difficulties or challenges; and local government and business leadership.
Education and awareness were the main highlights of the action plan; many of the initiatives focused on educating the community in workplaces, public places and social media.
“This is a very important topic to discuss. We want everyone in Wellington County to feel accepted and welcomed no matter what colour or race,” said Coun. George Bridge, chair of the economic development committee and mayor of Minto.