Plans to re-establish a Returned and Services Association (RSA) branch in Oamaru are gaining momentum.
Oamaru has been without an RSA since 2014, when the North Otago branch went into liquidation and the building in Itchen St was transferred into Waitaki District Council ownership. Since then, the Waitaki District RSA Welfare Trust has continued to support veterans and their families in the region, organise Poppy Day and support commemorative events, but there has been no physical space for veterans to gather.
Oamaru man Barry Gamble has called a meeting this Sunday, with the intent of forming a new RSA in Oamaru. It would have no assets or capital, and operate from an existing business, and Mr Gamble was exploring options for using the Oamaru Club.
The meeting would be key to determining the way forward, he said. He would discuss his ideas and progress to date, and get feedback from those who have served in the armed forces or police and their families.
‘‘And we’ll go from there.’’
Mr Gamble, who moved to Oamaru in 1990, served as a regular peacetime soldier for about five years, and also spent time in the territorials. More recently, he established the Waitaki branch of the New Zealand Remembrance Army, helping to restore graves of former military personnel in the Waitaki district.
It was a conversation with New Zealand Remembrance Army chief executive Simon Strombom that inspired him to work towards re-establishing an RSA in Oamaru.
‘‘I said, ‘We haven’t even got an RSA in Oamaru, which is quite annoying because we need one’. He said, ‘That’s all right, just start one’.’’
Mr Gamble launched an ‘‘Oamaru RSA’’ Facebook page, and started gauging interest in the community. He approached former Royal New Zealand Air Force flight lieutenant Kelli Williams about serving as interim president, and appointed himself as secretary.
His vision was that the Oamaru RSA would be similar to Upper Waitaki’s, which met at the Kurow Hotel.
‘‘We’ll have a club night so that people can get together and have a few drinks and tell stories, and they’ll be able to partake fully in anything that the club’s running,’’ Mr Gamble said.
While it was not a traditional RSA model, there were few other options, and many other clubs were finding success by amalgamating with other social clubs.
‘‘It got to the stage where if someone didn’t actually make a start we’ll never, ever get it.
‘‘So hopefully it’ll be a rolling stone and it will pick up momentum and we’ll start doing things in the community.’’
It was important to serve Oamaru’s veteran community, and provide a platform for them to connect with other people who had spent time in the armed forces, he said.
There were two 100-year-old veterans in Oamaru, and another turning 100 this year.
‘‘They’re missing out,’’ he said.
It would be up to the Oamaru Club membership to decide whether or not the RSA could use it as a base, and Mr Gamble would explore other options if it did not work out.
The meeting to discuss the potential formation of a new RSA in Oamaru is being held at 2pm on Sunday at the Oamaru Club’s lounge bar.