Rich calls for cyber calm

Liz Bell

SALE’S much-loved social entrepreneur, Rich Lanham, is hoping to turn his recent parking indiscretion into an opportunity to spread the messages of kindness, support and community connection.

When his distinctive red ute with trailer attached was photographed on Monday taking up more than its fair share of an angled parking space in Raymond St, and then posted on the Gippsland Times Facebook page, an online storm erupted.

As of Monday morning the post had received 746 reactions, 316 comments and 142 shares, reaching more than 28,000 Facebook users.

Rich put his hand up in the comments section, explaining he had put the trailer on to do a job, but then completely forgot it was attached when he remembered he had to go to the bank.

He thanked people for being patient.

“Sorry to everyone I held up.

“Tomorrow is another day,” he wrote.

Most were understanding of Rich’s self-confessed “brain lapse”, but there were also some comments that reflected the less pleasant side of social media.

But rather than feel upset about a few comments, Rich said the episode highlighted how “everyone has stuff they carry around”.

“I really see this as an opportunity to reach out to everyone,” he said.

“I don’t think online behaviour reflects how people really are – it’s more of a reflection of how they might be feeling at the time.

“Social media just gives people an opportunity to vent.”

Rich said the online flurry of comments also showed that as a society, technologically people were more connected than ever, but more disconnected as a community.

“People these days have a lot they have to deal with,” he said.

“They are doing it tough, and there are not the social or community opportunities there used to be.

“That can make people feel anxious, or it can make people feel disconnected.

“What we really need to do as a community is ask people if they are OK, encourage people, build them up, invite them in.”

Rich said discussions these days were often “polarised”, and the notion of ‘let’s agree to disagree’ was a thing of the past.

“As a society, I think it’s important that we look at ways to connect people to their communities, and help foster that feeling of belonging and friendship,” he said.

In line with those goals, the ordained minister and his wife Jules run the innovative 123 Café in Sale, which provides an accessible space for community groups, and opportunities for Sale’s young people to gain employment skills and the confidence to become contributors to the community.

It also provides a warm, welcoming and inexpensive space for groups, individuals and businesses to meet up.

His other social enterprises – a furniture factory that makes outdoor furniture out of recycled timber and an auto workshop offering low-cost mechanical services to unemployed or low-income car owners – are helping him to realise his mission of bringing the Sale community together.

“We want to use these businesses as tools to connect people,” he said.

“Simply, we aim to give people the opportunity to first relax, feel safe, be valued, experience love and hopefully find a moment where they can be generous to themselves, which nurtures their capacity to be generous to others.”