Welcome: Smile campaign launched in Ashburton

Smile. Start a conversation. Make Canterbury feel like home. That is the aim of a campaign that was launched in the Ashburton District in September.

The Start with a Smile campaign is being run by the Ashburton District Council and encourages locals to make the region feel like home for the many newcomers choosing to live and work in Mid Canterbury.

Ashburton District Council’s Community Relations Manager Vincie Billante says the district now has strong communities from places such as the Philippines, Pacific Islands, India and South America.

“Start with a Smile is all about getting to know the new people in Ashburton. We’re encouraging locals to be welcoming, just by starting with a simple smile.”

More than 300 people are already following the campaign on Facebook, including Filipino dairy farm worker Marlon Aragon, who moved to Ashburton in 2010 and features in the campaign.

Marlon works on a family-owned dairy farm, where he says he and his family were welcomed with open arms. “We couldn’t have felt more at home. They helped us to settle in and have since become very close. I consider them my second family.”

The focal point of the campaign is a blue ‘Smile Couch’ – a place where locals and newcomers can sit down and get to know each other. The couch is travelling around the district to events, public places, community spaces, workplaces and schools.

Ashburton residents are also being encouraged to host their own Start with a Smile event. “A potluck lunch, family sports day or even just inviting the newest employee to after-work drinks can all contribute to making newcomers feel at home here,” Vincie says.

Start with a Smile was first run last year in Christchurch, by the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, in response to the large number of overseas rebuild workers in the city.

Ashburton District Council took up the campaign as part of its leading role in the newcomer and migrant settlement work programme, under the Canterbury Regional Economic Development Strategy.

The campaign will run in Ashburton until the end of March. It will then be available to other Canterbury Councils.

- This article and pictures are contributed by the Ashburton District Council