Kyla Woodcock, founder of the Forest City Sport & Social Club and Woodlo Productions, chats about sitting on the pandemic sidelines, creating new traditions and rallying to give back
KYLA WOODCOCK CREATED Forest City Sport & Social Club in 2009, kept its heart beating during the pandemic, and is now resuscitating it – to the delight of its many fans and participants. At its height, the organization employed more than 20 people and organized an almost limitless variety of sports, social events and leagues for hundreds of active members.
“We’re expecting to return to that same size by early next year,” says Woodcock, who moved to London from Stratford 16 years ago. After getting a BA at the University of Waterloo, she earned her MBA at Ivey. She and husband, Paul, have three daughters, one cat and one dog.
The last family trip was a Disney cruise, which wrapped up just as the pandemic arrived. Trips to Portugal and Belize didn’t happen, but a recent weekend in Quebec City scratched their travel itch to some degree. When not travelling, she likes to wander antique and flea markets, looking for items to inspire home renovation projects.
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Londoners know you from FCSSC. Your new venture is kicking things off with the Magic of Lights. What is Woodlo Productions?
I started Woodlo Productions earlier this year, when Covid restrictions sidelined the Forest City Sport & Social Club. For a long time, I’ve wanted to bring large, family-friendly events to our community that are all about having fun and giving back. So that’s what Woodlo Productions will do. We plan to do a few really great events each year, all of which will be celebratory and support local non-profits in some way. Magic of Lights, Woodlo Production’s first event, is a two-kilometre drive-through holiday light experience. We have turned the Longwoods Road Conservation area, just minutes south of London, into a winter wonderland with over a million LED lights and animated displays. Magic of Lights is open seven days a week in the evening, from November 19 until January 2. One ticket per carload. It promises to be the holiday event of the season and a great new tradition for families in our community.
You’ve always connected your work to charitable causes. The Magic Lights will support United Way, right?
Right! A portion of the proceeds from all tickets sold will go to United Way Elgin Middlesex to support continued investment in poverty reduction, affordable housing and mental health services for children and families right here in our community.
Obviously, FCSSC was dealt a huge blow by the pandemic. How did you keep it alive?
For much of 2020 and early 2021, FCSSC was not able to operate because social gatherings and playing team sports were not permitted under public health regulations. FCSSC was fortunate to avoid most variable costs during Covid and to qualify for some of the government funding that was offered to businesses hit hard by the pandemic. My team was very supportive, agreeing to take time off until restrictions were lifted. Our members accepted the credits that we offered toward future play and sent us wonderful messages of support. And we worked really hard to deliver programming that complied with all health regulations through the various stages of Covid recovery.
We played exclusively outdoors and introduced activities that allowed for physical distancing and small group sizes, like Yoga Under the Trees, Crossnet and Lawn Games. And when it was permitted, we brought back some outdoor team sports with rule modifications that promoted physical distancing. Now, we have welcomed the double vaccination requirements and returned to indoor play with Covid precautions, regular rules and lots of enthusiasm. It’s great to be back to a new normal!
People must be excited to get back to their favourite activities.
Members have come back super excited to play. We’re planning for pre-Covid demand — and more — for sports in 2022. We’re ready for as many members, returning and new, as are ready to play.
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You’re on the board of United Way Elgin Middlesex and are the past chair of the United Way Campaign. What’s your view of the pandemic through that lens?
United Way saw increased giving from all types of supporters in 2020 and early 2021. We saw significant collaboration across all sectors, including non-profit, private businesses and all levels of government. And we were impressed by the innovation of our funded agencies that adapted quickly to address urgent needs when our community needed it most.
Of course, we really need the community to rally again for this year’s campaign. Many people who were already facing barriers like poverty, mental illness and homelessness before the pandemic hit are even further behind now. Many others are needing help for the first time because of job loss and precarious work and the impact of many months spent in isolation without connection to friends, family and neighbours. We’re hopeful for a bright future. We’re asking members of our community to give what they can now to make sure we all get there.
Do you have a favourite sport or activity?
My favourite sport is volleyball. I play weekly with my team, ‘One Good Block’. The team started out as four couples who each live on a different side of the same block in Wortley Village. I love spending Thursday nights with them on the court and at the Old South Village
Pub. Interview by Christopher Clark