By Bruce Morris
What a lovely community we have in Mt Albert. How many times have you heard that? At the village upgrade ceremony last weekend, even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, our local MP, was telling us we were something special.
But we’re not, of course. We’re just 12,000 to 15,000 people living in a seven- to eight-square-kilometre patch of Auckland getting on with our lives.
The notion that we in Mt Albert have a unique sense of community – where everyone pitches in and gives their time freely to help their fellow citizens – is a fallacy. We are no different from most other parts of Auckland, and some provincial towns and villages would laugh at our lofty claims to be otherwise.
That’s not to say we’re a miserable bunch looking after only ourselves or those nearest and dearest. When it comes to it, we can help little old ladies across the road with the best of them. And we have great people always thinking of others and giving freely.
But do most of us really step up when it means giving our time to improve our neighbourhoods and make things better for the people who live here?
Ask that question of those who lead virtually every club or community group in Mt Albert and you will quickly get your answer, though many may whisper it because they won’t want to cause offence.
The fact is that, like any organisation in the supercity, the groups and clubs here who help to make this suburb a better place are run by a tiny handful of volunteers. Really, that’s always been so – especially, I imagine, in more recent decades.
Over the years, many of those unselfish folk would love to have stepped aside after doing their duty, but they haven’t been able to. They know their groups would wither if they stood down.
Why is that? Why do we so happily enjoy the stretched fruits of voluntary labour but turn our backs when asked to help or make a contribution?
Of course, everyone leads busy lives and kids and work are a constant drain and strain. But is that so for everyone? Is that not often just a convenient excuse trotted out by some even when the kids have left home? And can golf, fishing and gardening really soak up all the hours in retirement life?
I make these points after talking to a range of voluntary workers over the past two or three years. They gag a little when they hear that “lovely community” phrase, as if we have a local environment where everyone is encouraging and tripping over themselves to lend a hand.
Most specifically, I’m thinking of the group that owns this website – the Mt Albert Residents’ Association (MARA), whose annual general meeting will be held in the Garlick Room at the YMCA from 7pm-8.45pm on Tuesday, June 12.
In one guise or another, MARA has been around more than a century, with some lulls over the years as enthusiasm fell away – only to be stirred back into action by a fresh challenge to the local way of life.
Each second Tuesday of the month – at 7pm at the YMCA – the small MARA committee meets to discuss issues of moment to our suburb and what to do about them.
While many of you are locked into bad television, this group does its best – working with the local board and often before just three or four members of the public – to keep on top of things that matter to all of us… and then spreads information on social media and to a database of members.
In between meetings, committee members do what they can to stay well informed on important questions, and their impact on a range of community concerns has been impressive, as this link illustrates..
But like all voluntary groups, MARA needs support. Too much is being left to too few.
If you have a community heart and the idea of joining like-minded people has appeal, the existing committee will welcome you at their table. New members can always be co-opted, but there’s a formal nomination process before the AGM.
For more information, drop co-chairs Sir Harold Marshall and Wayne Pearson, or secretary Amanda Joshua, a note to firstname.lastname@example.org (or use the MARA contact page on this website).
It’s time to get involved. Tape the bad television, become a committee member or just come to the meetings. Your suburb needs you.