Bliss Prema (left) and Marianne Sorensen, executive director of the 1Up Victoria Single Parent Resource Centre, stand in front of the organization’s former office at 602 Gorge Rd. E. The building is condemned, and as a heritage building cannot be torn down. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Victoria single parent resource centre forced to flee collapsing building

1Up was operating out of a heritage building that is now condemned

  • Mar. 30, 2019 12:00 a.m.

Six years ago, Bliss Prema lived in a beautiful house in Victoria’s affluent Rocklands neighbourhood with her husband and two daughters. She would often donate old clothes and toys to the 1Up Victoria Single Parent Resource Centre, but never imagined that in a few years she would need those donations herself.

After Prema and her husband divorced, she suddenly found herself as a single mother struggling to get by.

“It’s been a full circle for me,” Prema said. “I’ve had the amazing opportunity of going from a fully supported person in a marriage to all of a sudden being on my own and having to struggle and learn how to be independent with two children.”

When Prema accessed 1Up for the first time as a single parent, she felt immediate relief.

“When you’re facing something that’s so foreign, it’s all new territory. I’d never been a single parent before so it was so empowering and so impactful to have this whole network that’s there to support you,” Prema said. “Now it’s interesting just to come in and grab a pair of summer shoes for the girls and find a business dress for me for a meeting. On so many different fronts they have us covered.”

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1Up is a charity organization that helps support 1,800 family members, averaging out to 250 families accessing services every month. The organization offers food, clothing, school supplies, Christmas hampers, counselling services, mentorship programs, life skills classes and parenting education workshops as some of its services. It is run through fundraising efforts, as well as through grants and donations.

For nearly three decades, 1Up has worked out of its heritage building at 602 Gorge Rd. E., but as of January the group had to flee the building after it was condemned.

“A report came back saying there were serious structural concerns, and that the building was certain to collapse,” said Marianne Sorensen, executive director of 1Up. “So, we had to make a really quick decision that we couldn’t risk our staff, members and volunteers.”

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Within a day, the group grabbed everything they could before locking up the building for good.

The building needs significant repairs, Sorensen said. Interior and exterior cracks were caused by a shifting foundation, so the building will need to be lifted, a new foundation poured, beams and bricks replaced and seismic upgrades installed.

“It would be at least $1 million,” Sorensen said. “As a designated heritage building, we can’t demolish it, nor can anyone who intends to buy it.”

1Up purchased the building in 1991, and thanks to a generous donor never had to make mortgage payments on the building. The organization tried to sell the building in recent years, most recently listing it for $700,000 for 18 months with zero takers.

1Up has since moved across the street, renting out the gym at the Centennial United Church at 612 David St. as a temporary site. While Sorensen is grateful for the space, 1Up now has limited hours and space to operate in.

“We’re not able to accept nearly the amount of community donations,” Sorensen said. “Other people use the facility, too, so each day we have to take everything out of storage, set it up and then pack it up again.”

1Up is looking at any other option available for a more permanent site, including advocating with the City of Victoria to lift the heritage designation on the old building so that it can be demolished.

In the meantime, renting out the church space has allowed the group to keep in touch and stay busy. One of the new opportunities the temporary space offers is a kitchen, allowing the group to organize community meals. Prema hopes that wherever the centre ends up, that a kitchen might be included.

“As a single parent, night after night you’re making meals and then you can just come to this community,” Prema said. “That way it’s easy to remember we’re all in the same boat, we’re all going through the same struggles. and all of a sudden it doesn’t feel so lonely anymore.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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