In the spring of 2023, I noticed something new and interesting in the University Centre (UNC)  building — a little place called “Picnic” located at UNC 122B. Before then, I’d only ever seen the place shuttered, but it was open and lively that day. I took a little peek inside, out of curiosity more than anything, and saw a common space, comfortable-looking chairs, a whole pile of pamphlets and resources, and some staff standing around looking helpful. Unfortunately, I had a lot on my plate that day, so I had to move on without inquiring any further.

But that little space in the UNC stayed on my mind. It seemed comfortable and open in a way that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around, the kind of space that I felt a strange itch to learn more about every time I happened to pass by it.

And so, recently, I sat down with Casey Hamilton, a Wellbeing Strategist with Campus Wellness and Education who is one of the driving minds behind Picnic and its services. I had a lot of questions, of course, and Casey was more than happy to answer them.

In its current iteration, Picnic is part of UBCO’s Campus Wellness and Education, a facet of student services. Its primary purpose is to exist as a community space that encourages and supports the well-being of students from all walks of life. 

It was originally founded as a result of the VOICE research program identifying a need to combat food insecurity on campus. In a series of surveys conducted between 2016 and 2018, 42.3 per cent of respondents reported being concerned about being unable to secure their next meal due to financial strain.

The results of these surveys, alongside a variety of other factors, prompted Campus Wellness and Education to seek a space to help alleviate some of the concerns that the UBCO community had. And even though it conceptually started as a means to alleviate food insecurity, Picnic has blossomed far beyond that since the time of its original conception, offering a wide variety of services for the campus community.

Aside from being a comfortable place to relax and be in community with your peers on campus, Picnic offers events, seminars, and resources for a wide variety of concerns. Their partnership with the Students’ Union Okanagan’s (SUO) student food bank, Pantry, helps ensure that the original vision of combating food insecurity is met. However, Picnic also holds everything from cultural celebrations in partnership with school faculties, to seminars and workshops with interested and knowledgeable students.

Providing a variety of services was key to Picnic’s mission once it crystalized. The space is more than just a resource center for those in need, and it’s a place where anyone can find something helpful and worthwhile. These ideas lie at the core of Picnic: it is a place where people can go without stigma or separation to be a part of the community. 

The purpose and practices of Picnic are constantly evolving. Having emerged as a result of community-based action research, Picnic operates as part of Campus Wellness and Education’s continuous strive to make UBCO the best it can be. A lot of this year’s VOICE research program is being run out of the Picnic space, and the data they collect could help spur more positive change on campus based on student feedback.

Positive change is what Picnic embodies, ultimately. It’s a program that exists by and for the campus community. It’s a novel idea, and, in my personal opinion, an incredibly positive one. We need more spaces like Picnic, where students can find the resources and forums they need to have their needs met and their voices heard.

So, be it food, knowledge, or just plain old proper community building – whatever you’re looking for, Picnic can probably help point you in the right direction. Every student who passes into the space has something to contribute to the experience, and as more people get involved, Picnic can continue to foster the growth of the campus community in new and inventive ways. 

I, for one, think that’s incredible.

Picnic is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on weekdays. To keep up with what’s next for Picnic, follow Campus Wellness and Education on Instagram at @ubcoaccesswellbeing or the SUO Pantry food bank at @pantryfoodbank.