The news reports are often about job cuts and economic set backs in Whanganui. At the same time, there's also a streak of entrepreneurship that runs through this town. We've people who are marrying talent with determination and confidence and the results are beautiful to see.
I met Zuz Thornton and Sara Price over a potters wheel, back in winter when the Potter's Society riverside studio was bracingly cold. Jim Farley, the amiable and vastly experienced president, had offered to give new members an introduction to the wheel.
Oh I'd been warned: the wheel looks easy, but isn't. You either have the knack for throwing clay, or you don't.
Well, Sara: there is a woman that was born to throw pots, it seems. Later I found out she'd only had a week's more tuition than me; she and Zuz were literally beginners too.
As I expected, any competence I am yet to develop on the wheel will come about through persistence. A great deal of persistence. (Jim was sweet enough to assure me that anyone (ie even me) could learn to throw clay, "it just takes some people longer".)
I ran into them again recently, when Cathy Dickison threw open her herb nursery and garden and invited some friends to run stalls offering handcrafted work.
Here they were, with a company name, beautiful business cards, a table full of jewellery, bath goods — and lots of beautiful pots. How about that? In half a year, they had learned enough about fashioning clay and glazing — and that's a whole art in itself — to go into business.
The pair seem inseparable but it turns out they only met two years ago. Both are British, have been in New Zealand for over a decade and moved from Wellington to Whanganui three and four years ago respectively.
Both had each nursed an ambition to make and sell handcrafted products. As Zuz tells it, it just fell into place when they met and their different backgrounds perfectly complement each other.
Zuz's history is in graphic design and fine arts. Sara's an at-home mum with a strong practical bent; she's an excellent cook, sews, makes furniture, upholsters.
And what they've joined forces to produce, under the Light + Vessel name, shows a real blending of these talents. Sara's vessels are wonderfully functional and beguiling simple yet there's an understated, very appealing design aesthetic.
They love making "things you can use" and which make people happy. The pair have a stall at the River Trader's Market every second week — do look out for them today. (And remember the market has extended hours before Christmas: stallholders will be trading until 2pm.)
It reminded me of dawdling outside a new shop on Guyton Street in early spring. The window display was beautiful but puzzling: what kind of shop was this, exactly? Zaidies was so new, the signwriter hadn't been by yet. Kirsty popped out and warmly ushered me inside, where I found a gorgeous selection of vintage women's clothing, plus some lovely pieces handmade by her sister. She'd started out at the market too.
Whanganui's appeal was highlighted when friends from Wellington spent a long weekend here recently. It's fair to say Whanganui exceeded their expectations. They'd come for a rest and to catch up with me and my family but also found plenty of pleasing diversions, starting (of course) with the market on Saturday morning.
The next day we sought refuge from the heat at Rick Rudd's Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics. We loved it, I was embarrassed I'd never visited before. It was one of those periodic moments of wonder that Whanganui offers: look at this gem that makes its home here. And along with Rick's thoroughly delightful teapots, I loved the collection of work by Whanganui potters.
Later we saw more of Ivan Vostinar's quirky ceramics (and some more desirable teapots) at his studio on Rangiora Street, as we headed to dinner at The Citadel. It was the day before the café's first birthday, a glorious hot summer's evening with a cheerful crowd, and my smart city friends were impressed with the food and the vibe. ("It looks like something straight out of Portland in 2003," said Adam.)
Their dietary requirements were catered for effortlessly, staff were cheerful and welcoming as always and the burgers and fries were memorable.
In November last year, just before opening, The Citadel owner Charlotte Melser told the Chron, "This is our community, and we believe enough in it to do what we're doing. The more I get into this project, the less risk I feel is involved. With the amount of support we receive, I don't see how we can fail."
And indeed that's the case. It's great to see the café expand into more space next door. The Citadel seems not simply café but a social hub, a focal point for the aspirations of those who want to progress Castlecliff.
The whole community benefits when such committed, savvy people make their home and create their livelihoods here.
Rachel Rose is a writer and editor who makes her home in Whanganui. More information at www.facebook.com/rachelrose.writer