Heritage is Whanganui's top asset and Helen Craig wants it highlighted, enjoyed and used to the full.

The Whanganui councillor and mayoral candidate is also an active secretary of the Whanganui Regional Heritage Trust. She's organised a meeting on May 24 to push her idea along.

It's in the Whanganui Regional Museum's Davis Lecture Theatre, from 5.30-6.30pm.

Supporting it will be fellow members of the regional trust and staff from New Zealand's national body, Heritage New Zealand.

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The aim is to get people talking about the possibilities, excited, and putting forward ideas for the future. The ideas could be events such as the Vintage Weekend, awards or expos.

Mrs Craig would also like Whanganui District Council to have a heritage policy.

"We've got an arts policy and a tree policy, but not a heritage policy. We've got pockets of things, but nothing cohesive," she said.

Places need to have something special. Mrs Craig said Whanganui had arts, sport and the river but heritage topped them all. It came in many forms - boats, trams, cars, machinery, buildings, clubs, military, airport, literature and natural history.

"The richness of our history and the heritage assets wraps all those significant assets together in an outstanding package."

The meeting next week will be short, but a small step toward a bigger project, she said.
It would begin with quick speeches from herself and a Heritage New Zealand representative about the significance of Whanganui's heritage story. People and groups with heritage interests will then be identified.

The attendees will be asked to write down their ideas for promoting heritage, and these will be collated later. Mrs Craig wants to suggest a national award for heritage towns or districts.

A key outcome would be for owners to cherish and restore their heritage buildings, and she said that had to happen quickly.

"Once we lose them they are gone forever, so this is a critical time."

The benefits of promoting heritage can be seen in the wealth that embracing Art Deco has brought to Napier.

Mrs Craig said there were business and job opportunities including construction, developing earthquake-strengthening technologies, heritage products such as clothing and furniture, tourism and attracting new residents.