Rebranding breathes life into RSA

By Sophie Bond

"Not a pub, not just a club, but a hub within the community," says RSA national president Don McIver, with a grin.

A retired general who served in the New Zealand Army for 39 years, Mr McIver would blend into any RSA in the country. But the Lower Hutt resident says the organisation needs to change the perception that it's a place full of grey-haired men.

Last year the RSA rebranded, intending to shake off the perception it is a closed club for older people.

"What we're trying to do is promote the RSA as a club which is an important part of the community; a club that welcomes visitors, provides a pleasant environment and is a safe and positive place for families. It provides good hospitality, good food and, on top of that, what makes us different is our military heritage."

Mr McIver has been in Auckland visiting local RSAs to check up on how they're faring and to offer support where needed.

At Orakei RSA there's a plate of homemade quiche for sale on the counter and a handful of patrons seated at the tables. A small girl eats chips from her lap, eyes fixed on the TV, and on the mezzanine floor members of a craft club sit drinking tea and stitching quilts.

Manager Pam Whitaker says this is a typical medium-size RSA, which caps its yearly membership at 500.

"We're one of the smallest ones to operate every day. Financially, we manage but we do things to raise revenue, for example, we've got Telecom and Vodafone towers on the roof and an arts group leases the top floor."

Mr McIver says clubs comes in all shapes and sizes. "RSAs can go from large and exclusive clubs - for example, in Auckland you've got clubs like Manurewa and Te Atatu - which have up to 1000 members, with very comfortable facilities and restaurants and they are big, active and thriving. At the middle of the scale you have the smaller clubs; some are coping well and know their capabilities, and others are having difficulty operating."

"Then, at the other end of the scale, there are RSAs that are amalgamated with other clubs, like working men's clubs, bowling clubs and cosmopolitan clubs."

For Mr McIver the ideal is for clubs to operate independently, but that requires steady membership. Currently, the RSA has 117,000 members, about 40 per cent returned or service.

"So the other 60 per cent are non-service members and that's a measure of the interest they have in the message.

"We've got to make the whole experience of being a member very positive."

Auckland RSA president Peter Mason echoes Mr McIver's message: that the RSA should work to become part of the community.

"The profile of the members is changing," he says. "The WWII vets are dwindling so we rely on the local community supporting the clubs. You've got to be open and welcome. The clubs that don't follow the family, open-doors approach are going to have problems."

Mr McIver believes the organisation is making progress as demonstrated by a membership rise of 5000 last year.

He says a major commitment is to increase membership of those who are serving or have recently retired from military service. "For us to prosper into the future those people need to see the advantages of being part of the RSA."

RSA representatives greet service people on their return to New Zealand and give them information about the organisation. A recent initiative has seen all members of the Armed Forces and police offered free membership.

While the RSA does seek to widen its membership and become more community-friendly, the core commitment to remembrance remains the same.

"We live the spirit of Anzac by what we do," says Mr McIver. "The function of remembrance is very important to us: honouring those who served our country; those who came home and those who didn't."

"The RSA is a significant New Zealand institution. It has committed itself to the support of veterans returning from overseas service, creating a social environment for veterans and special support for those who need it - for example,

those injured as a result of service."

Mr McIver left on Thursday to spend Anzac Day at Gallipoli.

He will attend with the NZ Defence Force delegation and will recite the RSA ode at the commemoration service.

See the list of Auckland Anzac Day services here.


The RSA ode, from Laurence Binyon's poem For the Fallen:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.



- The Aucklander

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