Some life-changing relationships have come out of the Bendigo Newcomers group, Renee Thompson writes.
There are sure to be some great reunions when the Bendigo Newcomers group meets for its 10th anniversary gala dinner next weekend.
All members - past and present - have been invited to attend the anniversary dinner.
As well as helping to welcome hundreds of new people to the area, there have been some life-changing relationships to come out of the Bendigo Newcomers group in the past decade.
The group can lay claim to a couple who got engaged and married after meeting through the group.
Another group of friends who met through the Newcomers have become such close friends they travelled to Italy together in July last year, as part of a larger group of others, to celebrate their 60th birthdays.
Christine Longmire said she and her husband, Don, and another couple they met from the Newcomers group, Jenny and Kevin Bazley, had all enjoyed the special trip, which she called a "trip of a lifetime".
"The trip would never have happened for us had we not met the Bazleys through Newcomers," she said.
She and her husband have plans to visit Asia next with another couple they have met through the group.
Mrs Longmire came across the Bendigo Newcomers group on the internet before moving to Bendigo from South Australia about six years ago, and began emailing them from afar.
She said the couple "did not know a soul" in Bendigo but soon made friends after joining the group.
"We retired to Bendigo. Once we got settled we joined Newcomers," she said.
In terms of moving to Bendigo, joining Newcomers was the best thing we ever did.
"There were lots of us who joined around the same time who were all the same age."
Now on the group's committee, Mrs Longmire often hosts Newcomers events at the couple's home.
"We hosted a Newcomers event at our home a few weeks ago – it was called ‘winter warmers'," she said.
She said the group was "warm and friendly" to newcomers to Bendigo.
"It’s such a vital, active group and when you’re new to Bendigo it provides social activity and like-minded people," she said.
"All the people we’ve become friends with would probably say the same thing, it’s a really good group to be a part of.
"Quite a few single people have joined, and we’ve had several ladies say the best thing is that you can go out on your own within the group, with people you know, and not feel threatened."
Mrs Longmire said she had a lot to thank the Newcomers group for.
"In terms of moving to Bendigo, joining Newcomers was the best thing we ever did," she said.
"We’ve made a lot of friends, some of whom we have travelled with. We’ll be friends forever now."
Free to past and present members, the 10th anniversary dinner is being held on August 2 at the Bendigo Pottery Function Centre at 6pm, and organisers are expecting at least 60 guests - so far.
Bendigo Newcomers founder Michelle Scott said about 135 invites to the dinner had been sent out.
“We’re tracking down more and more people,” she said.
Mrs Scott thought the appealing thing about the group over the years was the fact there was no pressure to get involved or say goodbye after a certain date.
She said numbers fluctuated and people were free to drop in and leave again - and were always welcome back even years later.
“I think that’s why it’s gone for so long, there’s no 'you can only be here for two years and then you’re out'," she said.
“We had a lady from Axedale the other week, she’d been sitting on the information for three months, so we had a lunch coming up on the Sunday and she told herself, I’ll make the phone call today, if someone answers, I'll go.
"She came that day and just loves it."
Members pay a $10 annual fee and keep in touch via a quarterly newsletter, which lets them know about coming events.
The group aims to cater for diverse age groups by putting on a wide-range of activities such as morning teas, winery tours and home-based functions.
While it doesn't offer recommendations, the group can offer newcomers suggestions for a starting point.
Finding a doctor, getting the right real estate advice or even knowing who to call when your car breaks down can be daunting for someone new to a town and were some of the frequent questions asked of the group, Mrs Scott said.
Real estate advice was another big one, she said.
"It’s about connecting with people," she said.
Mrs Scott said tight-knit communities such as Bendigo could be off-putting to the newcomer.
"Breaking into an established community can be difficult, it's hard to put yourself out there," she said.
But regular meet ups are not just aimed at new residents, in fact they are open to anyone who might want an opportunity to meet others, Mrs Scott said.
"It’s about Bendigo as a community," she said.
"They might have been here for a while or even a long time, but maybe they've lost connections or need to start some."
City of Greater Bendigo mayor Barry Lyons will be among those at the gala and last week joined the Newcomers group for a catch up ahead of the anniversary dinner.
The relationship between the group and the city has been more of an informal one historically but has become more formalised recently, thanks to council funding allocated to it over the past four years.
Cr Lyons said he was looking forward to the gala and welcoming newcomers to Bendigo was something he was also passionate about, especially with a growing population to cater for.
"There’s always going to be a need for it (the Newcomers group)," he said.
Former president Kevin Bazley, who was also present at last week's catch up, summed up the group's primary role in the community.
"The greatest benefit Bendigo Newcomers offers to the community is access to social engagement," he said.