By Beth Houlbrooke
Today as I sit down to write my column I feel a bit like George in the TV Series 800 Words, only I’ve got about half that many. I recently had a visitor stay for the weekend with me here in Warkworth, from the city. We spent the weekend being “tourists in my own town”, and attending a charity fundraising dinner for Hospice and the Mahurangi Restoration Trust, organised by Mahurangi Rotary and Warkworth Lions.
It was a wonderful way to spend the weekend – shopping, eating out, and supporting a significant local event. My friend found it remarkable that people stopped to say ‘hello’ on the street, shopkeepers engaged in conversation that was more than polite small talk, and generally, people seemed to know and like each other. She was particularly inspired by the strength of community spirit shown at the fundraising dinner, saying “you would never find this where I live” (an upmarket suburb in east Auckland).
Of course, living in a small community has its down-sides. Just like the characters from the fictional town of Weld, people are wondering who’s dating who, mentally noting how many bottles of wine are in my supermarket trolley; I’m not able to get around the store without hearing about a persistent pot hole that needs repairing or a street light that’s out; I must make sure I drive absolutely perfectly – not too fast, but definitely not too slow – without ever forgetting to indicate, know my give way rules, and execute flawless parallel parking manoeuvres – because there’s always someone watching!
But here in north Rodney, we have a sense of community that’s hard to beat. We pick up our neighbour’s wheelie bin it’s blown over and put it out of harm’s way; we take our excess fruit to someone who can produce something of value with it; we organise street pot luck dinners; volunteer at school, church, charity shops or sports clubs; we join service organisations; get involved in community projects; plant trees; we report graffiti, broken footpaths, fallen branches and the like; we look out for each other’s children. We support fundraising events by digging deep to find the ticket price, buy items at auction, purchase raffle tickets; and we attend ANZAC Day services.
The remarkable thing is that none of these actions require government rules or regulations. We do them because we have free will, and we care. There is no requirement to be an active contributor to society, and yet somehow we have people willing to be so. Yes, the Warkworth area is growing and to resist that growth will be like trying to hold back the tide. The challenge is to keep our sense of community, welcome the newcomers and see them as valuable new additions to the community. They have chosen us for a reason.