Say Hello buttons not welcome at Surrey city hall

July 23, 2015

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

The man behind a campaign to get Metro Vancouver residents to warm up and say hello to one another says he is getting the cold shoulder from the City of Surrey.

David Beattie and volunteers with the Hello Project hand out buttons people can wear inviting others to say hello, as a way of making the city more welcoming and less alienating.

“You have a sign that’s like a traffic light that sends a silent signal,” Beattie explained. “We need to change our behaviour depending on whether it’s red or green.”

But Beattie and his volunteers are not welcome to spread that message inside Surrey City Hall, where they would like to set up a table. Laurie Cavan, the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, said the Hello Project is not a good fit for the atrium, where the city has displays promoting some of its programs.

“They’re all passive displays. We don’t have individuals … approaching the public or approaching city staff promoting programs. It’s just not something we have felt is conducive to the environment here,” Cavan explained. “We say the same thing in our recreation centres … people are there for the quiet enjoyment of the recreation facility and we don’t have people promoting other programs and initiatives and approaching people when they come into the facility.”

Beattie and his group plan to conduct a pilot project in Surrey’s city centre area over two to three weeks in the fall, with volunteers handing out buttons and flyers to passersby.

But city staff also have reservations about the Hello Project’s use of volunteers, Grade 11 and 12 students from a group called Youth Transforming Society, who also handed out the buttons at the city’s recent Fusion Festival.

Surrey councillor Judy Villeneuve, who heads the city’s social policy committee, said while she is generally supportive of the Hello Project, she shares some of the concerns raised by staff.

“They felt a little bit worried about who was going to be approaching people, or if there’s young people approaching strangers that they don’t know, what message that could give or if there could be any sort of danger. We felt volunteers should be trained and … screened,” she said.

City volunteers typically receive training for what they will be doing and undergo a criminal record check, Cavan said.

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