This week Vivid Minds Vivid Futures interviews Aileen MacDonald from Guyra. Aileen is well known within the community for her involvement in the Guyra & District Chamber of Commerce, where she is currently Secretary, as well as other community-based organisations such as Renew Armidale.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Sydney and lived there until I was 8, when my family moved to Brisbane. The whole time I was in Queensland I wanted to return to Sydney, and after leaving my job in life insurance, I moved back there. When I got to Sydney, I didn’t really want to stay due to the hustle and bustle. While living in Sydney I met Scott, who always wanted to move to the country. We moved to Guyra about 30 years ago.
We started our business providing agricultural services, which we ran for about 20 years. We have three children, the oldest of whom is almost 30. I’ve worked in admin, customer service, and am now working for the Department of Justice. I’ve always volunteered for community organizations, such as the preschool, and the P&C when the kids were at school, and then once they moved out of home, I thought I’d do something I wanted to do, so I became involved with Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and CWA. I love doing that because they are so involved in the community.
What does Guyra Business Chamber do?
We advocate for the business and local communities at a local, state and federal level, but mostly at the local level. It’s usually to do with planning and things like roads and local government regulations. We also try to facilitate networking opportunities for business, welcome new people to town, and run events.
I’m also Chair of a new initiative, Renew Armidale, which was started by AGBA. We encourage landlords to agree to use their empty spaces for startups or artists – anyone who has an idea they want to put forward to see if it has legs. If it’s an idea that’s going to work, they can enter into a commercial agreement, and if it doesn’t, they haven’t outlaid a significant amount of money. To make sure we are helping existing shops as well, the start-up’s idea can’t compete as it would give them an unfair advantage.
This is based on the Renew Newcastle model, but we do things slightly differently to ensure that we are sustainable. We don’t pay anyone; all the people involved are volunteers who are passionate about the region.
How did you end up as Secretary of Guyra Business Chamber?
I joined the Chamber because I could see how involved they were in the community and that they were doing really good work. I first joined as the Secretary, but then became President. When my tenure as President was up, there were still lots of things to do and I wanted to make sure they happened, so I put my hand up for the position of Secretary. The projects I want to see finished include the main street upgrades, fixing the fact businesses have to walk out to the street to process eftpos payments, advocating for economic opportunities that will promote tourism in the area, such as the Rail Trail, and working with the tomato farm to create opportunities for other growers to come and take part in water-efficient farming.
What excites you most about your role in Chamber?
There are opportunities to do things for the town and community. I can look back and see what has been accomplished and know the Chamber has had something to do with that. Guyra Chamber is certainly a force to be reckoned with! I remain passionate about what needs to be done and committed to achieving that. This isn’t just for me, it’s for the whole community. I want to have a pleasant experience in Guyra when I do business and shop, and when I go for a bike ride.
How are you going to achieve fixing the coverage issue in the main street?
We started with understanding the issues: consulting the community, and engaging with local business. We then arranged a meeting with Barnaby Joyce, and it was overcast, which was good as we got to show him a real example of what’s happening. From here, we will find out what funding rounds are coming up and make some noise to utilise Barnaby Joyce to get a solution put in place. Hopefully, businesses will be able to run without the current constraints.
What are some of the current challenges you are facing?
Sometimes people don’t have a vision, they just think this is the way it is; they accept poor service or being the second cousin instead of believing they have a right to good service. There can be a bit of apathy, such as, ‘Guyra is just a small country town’. The thing is, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. Guyra can be a small country town but still enjoy great service, and be a leader in its own right.
If you have a dream, it can be a goal – and a goal is something you work towards. I think we can inspire others away from apathy and get them engaged in being a part of their local community and improving things for everyone.
What inspires you?
It’s the little things in life: a lovely day, and you see a beautiful flower or bird; seeing nature at its best, especially out here in Guyra; seeing people do nice things and good things without being asked to. That really inspires me to keep going, and to do better.
Where do you see the Chamber in 12 months?
I still want to be working with and supporting the Chamber. I hope that they get through this COVID thing and continue to seek out solutions to issues that arise. In 12 months, I think they will continue to be as proactive as they have been in recent years. I imagine a lot of the current initiatives will have been completed, and Chamber will be moving on to the next big thing to help the town.