A small gathering to signal the completion of Cochrane Cares was not as much a celebration as an opportunity to take a breath before considering the actions to be taken in attempt to meet needs identified in the comprehensive needs assessment spearheaded by Family and Community Support Services (FCSS).

It has been a year since stakeholders gathered to lay the groundwork for the wide-sweeping needs assessment that was recently released and with over 1,200 residents providing feedback it gives a solid sampling of what's on the minds of Cochranites.

Several key priorites became evident from the cross-section of age groups sampled and topping that list was the need for public transportation and better transportation corridors. There was also a call to enhance the feelings of inclusion and belonging, a need for 24-hour urgent care, more affordable and accessible mental health counselling options, housing for all ages and income levels, affordable recreation opportunities, more things to do for youth ages 6 to 17 and improved employment, education and training opportunities.

Underlining the feedback are concerns over the pressures being placed upon infrastructure and services by a swelling and diversifying population and the fear that perhaps we're simply growing too quickly.

During her presentation at the June 16 celebration, FCSS manager Susan Flowers emphasized this report isn't meant to gather dust, it's a collective call to action.

"Whether you provide a social advance service, recreation or culture or economic development, this is information you can use for your planning for the next three to five years," she said.

In a separate interview, Flowers and FCSS coordinator Cindy Adekat, who played a major role in preparing the well-being review, spoke of the opportunities it provides to better understand what Cochranites want and how the data sought went beyond what the facilitators recommended.

"We wanted all the topics covered, and we knew Cochranites would step up," says Flowers, pointing out 700 completed the entire lengthy survey. 

"Overall, I think we feel we got some good response. People love Cochrane and they came here because Cochrane is so amazing, but they also had lots of recommendations on where we can approve. A lot of the services are bursting at the seams and even though they're doing a good job there's starting to be line ups because there are so many people accessing them."

Flowers sees some correlation between the need for transit and the expression of isolation and loneliness that are both included among the top seven issues.

"If we get transportation in the near future hopefully that helps with people feeling isolated and lonely and it was mostly young people and adults," she says.

Coupled with the need for more activities for youth six to 17 and the call for more affordable recreational activities is the need for housing for low and mid-income families.

All are related to financial positioning in the economy and could well be connected with what the report states is a concern for the increasing gap between high and low household incomes in Cochrane. Aong other things, those in the lower income brackets face health and social problems that are augmented by this inequity.

"The rising disparity diminishes social cohesion and challanges the idea of equal opportunity for success," states the report in its section on trends in the social sector.

Of those responding to the survey, 19 per cent had income families of $150,000 plus before taxes and all-in, one-quarter of the reported household incomes were less than $50,000.

Health care was also on the minds of residents who identified the need for 24-hour emergency care, more access to mental health services and the need for a emergency safe house and enhanced support for instances of family violence.

There's many other specific issues examined and the data is specific enough for many sectors of the community to utilize.

"We want people to starting thinking about how they're going to use the information; we don't want it sitting on a shelf," says Flowers.

"We want people to go in and look at the gaps and see where they can fit, form partnerships, work together and collaborate and solve some of the issues."

 The information will also be valuable in funding pursuits.

"A lot of funding organizations will ask question on how you know that this program is a need in your community so this is evidence they can use to support the need for funding in order to deliver specific programs in Cochrane," explains Adekat.

Cochrane completed its last needs assessment as part of the social master plan in 2009 when there were 11,000 few people here.

You can read a copy of the needs assessment here.