“If you paint your house….”

Anna Allen’s story By Fadila Chater

Mayor Anna Allen sits in her office, overlooking King Street in Windsor. I have a seat in front of her and she asks me how I’m doing. Her friendly smile and welcoming demeanor put me at ease. A few hours earlier, my stomach was turning. My nerves got the best of me. It’s not every day you get to interview the mayor of your hometown. And, as a journalist, it’s rare that they welcome you without hesitation. But that’s just who Anna is. She’s a people person. It’s her job. But, unlike other politicians, her friendliness isn’t faked or disingenuous. She isn’t in it for the fame or notoriety. She simply cares.  

Anna has lived in Windsor for most of her life. Though, for a time she felt like an outsider. To many people, the 10-kilometer difference between Hantsport and Windsor meant she was from away, a newcomer. Though, feelings of isolation soon changed once she had her first child. Anna became a community volunteer, joining groups to build friendships and contribute to her community. Her contributions culminated into a position on the town’s council and eventually three terms as mayor. Anna has truly made Windsor her home.  

But in recent years, her home has been rife with unconstructive criticism and divisiveness. 

“I got persuaded to run again,” she says. “I thought I have to, because I want to live here the rest of my life and I do not want this kind of climate to live in. It’s not healthy, it’s not good for you.” 

In 2016, citizens of the Windsor and West Hants sent an application to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board submitted to amalgamate the area. Anna had been closely watching the debate and what she heard worried her. The town was divided. Everywhere she went, she heard talk of amalgamation. Some people welcomed the idea, others rejected it and the rest had no idea what to think. Anna saw how critical the situation became and decided she could not allow the unravelling of her beloved town to go on any longer.  

“I thought I could make a difference because I had one time.” 

Nearly 20 years’ prior her 2016 election, Anna served two terms as mayor. At that time, women’s involvement in local politics were undermined and ignored. For example, Anna was the only woman councillor for several years, dealing with persistent rejection on a daily basis. Once elected, she saw the need to encourage more women to join politics. So, she created Women in Local Government Project. Her efforts had helped create programs to support women and mentor women in municipal governments all over the province. Sixteen years later, Anna saw the need to intervene once again.  

“Right from the get-go, it was ‘you need to take responsibility in your community.’ And we all do. The town council can’t do it alone; the staff can’t do it alone. We need cooperation from the people who live here.” 

Since 2016, major changes have happened in her life and in the lives of the people in town. One such change was the formation of the Happy Community Project. 

“The Happy Community Project has encouraged a lot of people in our community to get involved in the community and to make things happen and to not sit back and let others do it,” Anna says. “That’s what I was about coming into this last election and I will leave still wanting people to do that. But I do see a big difference.” 

With work piling on her desk, and her own community-building ideas left untouched, the Happy Community Project couldn’t have come at a better time. It may come as a surprise to some, but being mayor comes with many restrictions and policies. For example, Anna dreamed for years of a creating a community garden. But putting the idea through council, making sure the policy and by-laws were in place and finding the money to compensate employees would have taken months or even years. 

“If it was on my agenda, we would still be talking about it. But when people in the community make it happen, it happens. It’s much easier. They aren’t held back by policy, by laws and all kinds of regulations that municipal government has to adhere to.” 

Because of the Happy Community Project, townsfolk can bypass bylaws, create their own policies and figure out logistics on their own time and money. As a result, Windsor has a community garden, a weekly farmers’ market, a yearly picnic and other community-organized programs. 

“Barry is doing a lot of things I would have wanted to try to do. He has taken the lead in the community to have people recognize their talents and their strengths.” 

Now, Anna hears a difference in the way people talk about the town. She sees new businesses opening downtown, young families moving into the area and a general sense of pride that two years ago had been shattered by debate and argument. It used to be that the townsfolk walked around asking the town for change. Now they are the change. And Anna believes it is in part due to the presence of the Happy Community Project in the area.   

“The word got out in the right way,” she says. “You’re going to do it, you can do it, here’s the tools, make it happen. And they did!” 

Anna says that the Happy Community Project is exactly what the town needed; a platform on which they can share opinions, brainstorm solutions and projects, and see ideas come to fruition through their own means.  

“A happy community is a community when the citizens are involved,” she says. “It’s not about people walking around with a smile on their face all day, it’s people fitting in the community, they’re happy in the community, they are involved in their community, they’re participating in the events.” 

The atmosphere in town has improved and people are willing now to hear each other’s opinions in a healthy and constructive way. There is no doubt Anna takes great pride in her fellow residents and townsfolk. Their engagement and willingness to be the change they need in their neighbourhood is a testament to the great things the Happy Community Project can do in Windsor. For Anna, those feelings are contagious. 

“Good things catch on,” she says. “If you paint your house, good chance your neighbour will paint their house too.” 

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