Recently, I had a conversation with someone who moved to Warkworth two years ago, who was telling me how difficult it was to meet people and how disconnected they felt as a local. The first question I asked was, “What have you done to become a part of the area, to integrate and to meet people?” The person hadn’t done anything, but thought a small rural town would be friendlier. I’d like to think we are a friendly lot, but this certainly sounded like the expectation was all on the town, with no effort required by the new resident.
My initial response was to suggest joining some of the many local organisations that are always seeking volunteers. Since then, I’ve thought more about what and who make a community and a town work. On one hand, we have the business community that invests their money to establish and run local businesses. They often employ locals and use local suppliers, so are putting money back into the community this way. But the question is, is this enough to be considered part of the community?
Businesses become a real part of the community by getting involved, by helping other local organisations, donating what they can and participating in initiatives that make the town a more vibrant, busier place. These businesses are not just located here, they are part of our community. The same can’t be said for people who live here, but work elsewhere and say, “I’m too busy to be involved in anything”. They reside here, but they are not yet part of the community.
When it comes to local community projects, I see the same small group of people involved. The strange thing is, they too are busy, but still manage to put in long hours to make things happen. Now there’s lots of research on the impact of being too busy on mental health, but did you know that volunteering time has been shown to help people feel more socially connected, thus warding off loneliness and depression? Surprisingly, growing evidence also suggests that people who give their time to others might have better physical health including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.
So, not only does volunteering help others, it is good for you on many levels and provides plenty of opportunities to be part of our town, our community. It is also far more positive and productive than sitting behind a keyboard, doing nothing, complaining and giving not-so-constructive criticism. If you truly want to be a part of the community, my suggestion is get involved, become an advocate and be part of what makes our town a great place to live. Don’t just live here, become a part of ‘here’.
Murray Chapman, One Warkworth Manager