Thursday, April 15, 2010

Belshaw's World - Armidale needs to be more friendly

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 7 April 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

This column finishes my reactions on my return to Armidale.

Did you know that there were a number of facebook pages connected in some way with Armidale? I am a member or fan of four of them.

It’s fun. I know so many of the names and can share the experiences, even though most (not all) are of the younger generation.

Given my comments on the Mall in my last post, one group I have just joined was Save the Mall.

I suppose that I am really an outsider now, remote from Armidale’s day to day concerns. But as an outsider I am, possibly, more objective. Anyway, the Mall issue led me to write a full blog post on the future of the Mall.

A link follows at the end of this column. For the moment, I just wanted to note that my column received one very negative comment. I quote:

“Because it's a boring, unfriendly, small minded dump! Always has been, always will be. The best thing about A'hole is the view in your rear view mirror as you leave (hopefully never to return)”.

I have dealt with this before.

Some people do find Armidale unwelcoming and unfriendly. We need to change this.

It’s easy for someone like me; even though I now live outside the city I have such long and deep connections. It can be very hard for someone new trying to break in.

Enough of a lecture!

Returning to my motel on the Friday, I decided to go for a pub crawl!

Armidale has changed so much that I had no idea where people gathered on a Friday night. Looking at all the pubs in the centre of town, I decided that if I had a seven at each one, I could get round the lot without getting too drunk.

That’s a story in its own right.

I hadn’t attempted to order a seven of beer for many years. It used to be that a middy was standard, a seven or schooner the exception. Now, in our wealthier age, a schooner is standard. I got my sevens, but the pubs scrabbled to find the glasses!

Walking out of the Westwood, I only got as far as the White Bull. There I was hailed by PC.

I have known PC for many years. The last time we met was on a street in Sydney near where I then worked as CEO of the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists. I had no idea that he had returned to Armidale.

So I joined PC and his partner I. for a drink that turned into dinner. Apart from catching up on more Armidale gossip, they talked about disability services, an area in which both now work.

I. told me a quite inspirational story that opened my eyes as to what might be possible. I have promised to write something on this and will do so, although probably as a blog post rather than a column. I say this because the blogs get far better search engine coverage.

By the way, you may have noticed that I mention some people by name, some by initials. The rule I follow is that I use names where the link is in some ways professional, initials where the link is personal.

Saturday morning I went down town to look at the Autumn Festival procession. Given the start time, I decided to have lunch at the Newie since the procession went by there.

Before recording my reactions to the procession, a professional note.

From my experience, one of the big problems with special events is the lack of flow-on effects to businesses in the area. Too often, I hear the complaint from business people that their business actually falls.

This lunchtime, I was the only customer at the Newie bistro. As the procession finished, everyone went home. Indeed, the Newie shut its doors to customers pretty much as the procession finished.

Part of the problem lies in the dynamics of events. But part of the problem lies in the failure of businesses to capture the opportunities.

Here you have lots of people brought downtown. If you really want people to stay, you have to persuade them. So put on specials and events. Make it a day out.

This may not work the first time. It will work if the focus is maintained.

The procession itself was fascinating. I kept rushing outside to take notes and photos.

As I watched the various schools and national groups pass, I thought that this was another untold Armidale story. But that’s a story for another column!


Le Loup said...

I would not say that my feelings re Armidale are quite as negative as your first quote, but I must admit that people in general do seem a little unfriendly at times.
I have for instance contacted community groups in regards to doing something for the youth of Armidale, this includes the local Scout groups, and I have not even recieved the curtesy of a reply.
The local U3A group was very responsive in recieving my mid year membership payment, but they neglected to tell me that all the groups and activities were full up and no room for me! Then 6 months later they want more money!
Our group offers free services to non profit groups; historical show and tell demonstrations and talks, and again no replies!
It really is very offputting and depressing at times.

nellibell49 said...

Hmm. My daughter-in-law works in a motel in Armidale and my granddaughter was in the Procession as a student rep for Newling School. so I was touched by the images. I did ,however, agree with some points in your post. We see a good deal of businesses associated with entertainment and special occasions are very often lost by inaction and a fatalism.
( See the BOARDWALK CAFE in Urunga for active, confident development of an exciting eatery).
I haven't found Armidale friendly. I have been paying visits there now since 2000. Its not exactly unfriendly either - just different. Most often, I have developed friendships or at least acquaintances in that amount of time. Seems to me to simply be a more cautious society. I have found the same thing in some other University towns and suburbs. eg. St Lucia and Lismore. Transience vs longterm residency perhaps. It could simply be the cold of course. Yrs, L.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, both. As I said in the article, I have never found Armidale unfriendly, but I have been connected with the place all my life.

I think that Lynne was spot on when she said transience vs long term residents. I am sure that this is an issue. Another aspect is that Armidale has always, I think, been a more formal place than many other towns with its own complicated social structures.

nellibell49 said...

I found the social structures very interesting. I don't actually mind a little formality. Sometimes, things of value endure within them. After time on the Gold Coast, Armidale appeals to me more than the over-friendliness which doesn't necessarily continue to develop. Yrs. L.

Jim Belshaw said...

So do I Lynne. I also like depth in relationships rather than superficial friendlyness.