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Cochrane RancheHouse hopes to be back to business as usual soon

"In the land of events, this is a very challenging time. As we all now that it takes months and months to plan an event so it's really difficult to plan something that you're even uncertain can or will occur."
Cochrane RancheHouse (Chrissy Da Silva/The Cochrane Eagle)

COCHRANE— The COVID-19 public health protocols forced the cancelling or postponement of events in town, and The Cochrane RancheHouse that plays host to everything from weddings to summer camps has felt the painful sting of this upheaval.

RancheHouse Event Centre manager of community events and culture Kristie Bell said events like Cowboy Church, Blood Donor Clinics, Annual General Meetings and Fundraisers were all put on hold when the centre closed down due to COVID-19 on March 13. 

"It's been hard, the team has done an amazing job of adjusting to this, but of course it's disappointing to have to be the bearer of bad news, especially for a lot of the special events that were supposed to be happening," Bell said. 

With the reopening of the centre now being slated for July 2, Bell said it is hard to predict what future events will look like as the Town run facility will have to follow health guidelines and recommendations from Cochrane's Emergency Coordination Centre.

"As all Town facilities are looking at their re-entry or reopening programs, we are part of that so we have to align with that vision and that plan," Bell said. "Regardless of what the province says we still have to investigate our capacity and does it fit and how does it fit. Whatever PPE (personal protective agreement) requirements or event restrictions are in place is what we will do."

Bell added the longer the centre is closed to events, the bigger the loss in revenue becomes. She said the RancheHouse faces a projected loss of $550,000 if it remains closed until the end of the year.

On the cultural side of things, Bell said the focus has shifted to online programs to adjust to the virus. A variety of classes from art and music to Spanish lessons are being offered through the video-conferencing app ZOOM which Bell said has been great, but has come with its own challenges.

"That's a large learning curve for everybody to learn a new medium for teaching," she said. 

As for community events, Bell said the RancheHouse takes care of all the permits on Town land. This includes places like the Mitford stage and the Cochrane Ranche where individuals would be required to put in a permit application. Although all the events had to be cancelled, Bell said they have recently begun to reopen the permit process which will allow for a closer look to be given to small events hoping to take place on Town land again.

"As the provincial restrictions keep changing, people are looking for opportunities to get back into those spaces, so that's why we just recently re-opened the permitting process so that we can start to evaluate each request on a case by case basis."

The Cochrane RancheHouse had 52 weddings booked for the 2020 season until COVID-19 came along. Two took place on their original date prior to the pandemic, 29 have chosen to postpone and reschedule, 11 are still tentatively scheduled with their original 2020 dates and 10 have cancelled. Bell said weddings and funerals continue to be the two events that have been axed until the end of summer. 

"In light of all of this we still got new brides that were looking for 2021-2022 dates, so the good news is people continue to get married," Bell chuckled. "All it really means is our wedding season has expanded from the traditional June, July, August all the way from March through to November next year.

"My hope is that things look better because as an event centre, we want to do our jobs, we want to invite people back into our space and help people celebrate their special moments."

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