At times it can be conflicting to be so involved in the development of the region, which in some people’s minds is changing the essence of our small town heritage. In some cases, this might be true, but I’d like to think that despite all the growth and development, our community is as strong and vibrant as ever. In fact, it is our rural and community heritage that lures people in from far and wide to live and invest. I’ve found that newcomers to the area are in fact keen to shrug off the burdens of big city life and immerse themselves into a more balanced and fulfilling lifestyle. We have a long running office label for when our guys wear loafers, shorts and golf shirts to work. This outfit is called the ‘Salt Rock Suit’, and not only is it comfortable, but usually draws envious comments from our Joburg clients longing to ditch the jacket and tie… and why not? Times are changing, corporates are becoming more flexible, working remotely is commonplace and more value is placed on getting the job done than simply being in an office from nine to five. In the USA, recent research has shown that by 2020 almost 50% of the workforce will be freelancers. South Africa may be a little behind this trend, but there is certainly a big shift happening and our region is fast becoming a hub for professionals looking to balance their careers and personal lives.
It’s no secret that I’m passionate about our local history and heritage. As it is with new residents, I think this comes from an innate desire to feel connected, to belong. I’m therefore quite sentimental when it comes to various buildings and landmarks around town and pay particular attention whenever any development takes place impacting on these. In the past I have written about the Umhlali Village and its wonderful history and significance to the area. Our family and many other locals grew up going to ‘The Village’ as it was widely known, and I have very vivid memories of my times in the various shops. Every local will remember shopping at the Spar, Thompson’s Tasty Meats and Cindy’s, picking up a prescription at the Pharmacy, collecting the mail from the post office, browsing the latest ladies fashion in Shartini, or visiting the legendary Lali Hotel for a pizza and some Italian kisses. It has therefore been difficult to see our Village slowly deteriorate over the past few years.
Much to my excitement however, there is a resurgence taking place and something I am extremely positive about both from a development and community point of view. Some friends of mine have taken the bold move to purchase and re-develop a number of the old buildings with the vision of revitalising this significant precinct. With some smart tenant placements, the ‘Village’ is now busier than it’s been in decades and Umhlali Village is finding a new purpose and life. A term that has been coined to describe this kind of development is ‘adaptive re-use’. This can mean a lot of different things, from reinventing an old warehouse to repurposing shipping containers as homes, but at its core, the concept is about repurposing an old building into something new. Adaptive re-use differs from renovation in one important way; not only are buildings transformed, but this second life can be drastically different in purpose from the first. In Umhlali’s case, a bar can become a church, a hotel can transform into a school, and a supermarket can bounce back as a boxing Gym.
There is something very exciting, responsible and sustainable about this committed approach to development. With the growing community looking to connect with our heritage, this should be an extraordinary benchmark for others to follow.