Some of Boambee's Avachat group.
Some of Boambee's Avachat group.

Talking is what this Coffs community group does best

CHATTING is one activity that can be enjoyed by all ages and at Boambee East's community centre, that is exactly what happens every Monday morning.

Avachat, a catchy name inspired by the colourful movie Avatar, is the name of a group started three years ago by livewire volunteer and retired administrator Margaret Bridgman, which has struck a chord with the community living in the southern suburbs of Coffs Harbour.

"I thought when I retired I'd play golf and walk the dog," Margaret said. "But I couldn't stand it.

"Then Salvation Army Major Steve Metcher suggested I get involved with the community centre, which I honestly barely knew existed.

"We did a survey about what people in the area wanted and it came back that there was nothing in the area for seniors."

The first meetings saw just the organiser, Margaret and a ring-in.

"We used to invite the staff for morning tea to bump up the numbers to five," Margaret said. "I didn't know what I was doing."

But she persevered, invited people along, persuaded everyone they had something to say and interest in Avachat grew.

Now the group has a membership of 65, with weekly attendances averaging 40 people, equally split between men and women.

Age is no barrier, with people from 30 to 93 joining in the talk, encouraged by a round-table format with everyone contributing.

People new to the area find Avachat particularly valuable. They discover old acquaintances, neighbours or even relatives; form friendships; go on to join walking or art groups and discover common interests.

These days talk (and home made cake) is just the foundation of the Avachat program, which includes games, short trips, guided tours, lunches and guest speakers.

Members also help out at Boambee East Community Centre events.

Margaret Bridgman officially retired four years ago aged 70, after 10 years as the manager of Coffs Harbour's huge Salvation Army thrift store.

As well as Avachat, she co-ordinates events at the community centre and volunteers in the hospital emergency department one day a week.

She says her involvement with the centre has been an eye opener, even after half a century of managing organisations as diverse as the Coffs Harbour Golf Club; Bunker Cartoon Gallery; Coffs Harbour Tourism and Coffs Harbour Aero Club and being a student nurse, mother, grandmother, netball player, coach and the inaugural President of the Surfside Netball Club.

Margaret and her late husband Doug moved to the Coffs Coast in the 1970s after coming to the area for holidays.

Her encyclopaedic list of friends and contacts has been invaluable for sourcing guest speakers for Avachat and some have been a surprise.

Among popular speakers has been personable local undertaker Victor Rullis, who brought along a coffin for his talk, which proved a hit with the audience.

The Boambee community centre hosts everything from the Life Skills for Blokes program to a no-interest loans scheme; school holiday programs for children, dance, craft and church groups, psychological counselling - and hires out space for functions.

Margaret organises events as diverse as Carols on the Green; the Winter Solstice and the Young at Heart Seniors Film Festival at Sawtell's Majestic Cinema. Her latest project is a calendar.

The community centre is expected to be self-sufficient financially, with some support from Coffs Harbour City Council.

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