Community is a wonderful thing. Especially today.

We’ve got reason to be reflective and even a bit sentimental today. But we’ll come to that shortly.

You can define a community by the shared attributes of the people in it and/or by the strength of the connections among them. You need a bunch of people who are alike in some way, who feel some sense of belonging or interpersonal connection. When this connection is strong, that’s community spirit.

There’s no doubt that we have a great community of people here in the Upper Clutha. The population of our area is growing rapidly, but there is something very special about the people of Wanaka, Hawea, Luggate, Cardrona, Makarora and all the surrounding rural areas.

It’s possibly in part because many of us feel very fortunate to be able to live here. There is a strong sense of positive energy in the Upper Clutha, even despite the challenges we all invariably face at times in our daily lives. Perhaps it’s because fundamentally we have all made the choice to call this area our home, despite the fact that it costs so much more to live here, despite how remote it is in the scheme of New Zealand and the world, and despite it lacking in industry and job opportunities found in larger centers. We still choose to call it our home and a fundamental part of this decision is the awe-inspiring breathtaking natural environment that encapsulates us and that enables us to be reminded on a daily basis, that “it’s all worth it”.

It’s hard to say if this community spirit is the strongest element of what defines our community but it is clearly very important for many. Important enough to do something about. We have been impressed and blown away by the growing strength of our community and impassioned motivation to ensure that our most precious natural assets are protected. Also that our community values are not only understood, but acknowledged and built into thinking, forming a key part of the major decisions made at local government level.

It has been incredibly powerful process over the last few months to experience the community connecting one key issue – the development of Wanaka airport – and to experience the community spirit and energy surrounding this. We all know that this decision, more so than any other, is one that will shape our community for decades to come and the impassioned response from the people who live here will be key: making sure the voice of the community is not only heard, but is acknowledged and integrated into vital decisions which will impact us all.

Perhaps the strength of community spirit has arisen because the question of the development of the airport is not actually a single issue. Instead, it encompasses a matrix of interconnected issues, all of which are important to the Upper Clutha as it currently stands, and to those who will live here in the future. It’s about our community (both in the physical sense and the people sense). It’s also about the environment and our duty to make sure we protect and enhance it for future generations of residents and visitors. It’s about growth – how much of it we want, and whether we want to manage it proactively, just let it happen, or actually drive it harder and faster. It’s about how easy or otherwise it is to live here – and how we can help others who contribute to our community to make the Upper Clutha their home.

It’s about the infrastructure and systems we have in place to support the growing population. It’s about whether we are adequately looking after the seasonal/transient workers who pass through our area each year. It’s about where we focus our limited community resources. It’s about governance, local democracy and our local council.

All of these issues – and more – are important and interlinked. They need to be discussed – even debated – at length, involving all who wish to take part and a full range of perspectives, so that as a community we can shape our future together, and eventually pass the baton to the next generations.

Consider this: wouldn’t it be amazing if we could actually leave the community in better shape than we found it, at the moment we each pass that baton?

The incredible community spirit of the people of Upper Clutha is encapsulated in a milestone we hit at the weekend – one that we’re very proud of. Wanaka Stakeholders Group reached 3,000 members late in the afternoon on Saturday. Today we have achieved something we should all be proud of, and we are one step closer to ensuring that our community has the opportunity to engage with the process for establishing the vision of this region.

When the group was set up, we never imagined that it would garner so much support. And even in late June when we decided to get a bit more structured and organised, we thought that 2,000 members was an “aspirational stretch goal”. Yet in three months, we’ve found 3,000 people who share the same concerns as us, and the same positive focus as us in making sure that the future of our community is shaped positively, proactively and the way we all want it.

The four community associations of the Upper Clutha have come together – for the first time in the history of Wanaka – and stand beside us. Most Wanaka Ward candidates have signalled that they share similar aspirations (better consultation, greater community involvement and developing a shared vision). We’ve had hundreds of emails in support, and thousands of people on our website. Online, we’ve had excellent engagement from members and non-members – with almost 25,000 likes, shares or comments on our Facebook page in the last 30 days alone, and up to 3,100 people a day seeing our Facebook posts.

This has all grown organically. We put this down to incredible community spirit.

So from the six of us on the committee, and the 16 or so of us at the core of Wanaka Stakeholders Group and the Protect Wanaka campaign, we send a big thank you. Thank you for your support, your encouragement and your input. Even more importantly, thank you for engaging with the issues, being proactive and showing true community spirit. This is a journey and there is a fair way to go yet, and knowing that we are not just 16 people, but a community of 3,000 people (and growing) is incredibly energising.

Community is indeed a wonderful thing.

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