New Ashburton Club manager making his mark


Ashburton Club and MSA general manager Cliff Downes has identified areas of excess, and underuse,...
Ashburton Club and MSA general manager Cliff Downes has identified areas of excess, and underuse, at the club. Photo: Supplied
Mere weeks into his new role, Ashburton Club and MSA general manager Cliff Downes is making changes.

The 63-year-old has already identified areas of excess and underuse.

He met with an Ashburton realtor last week to discuss sublease options for empty second-storey rooms.

‘‘We have got a lot of space upstairs, that is absolutely not getting used. It’s really about generating income, ’’ Downes said.

The upstairs has a couple of meeting rooms, a billiard room, kitchen and toilet facilities.

‘‘It can be split up into offices ... it’s got its own separate access. It’s got a lift,’’ he said.

Downes moved to Ashburton to fulfil the role, replacing former general manager Kevin Kamat, with his partner Tina, two dogs and two cats.

He is the former general manager at the Whakatane RSA.

The move has brought the couple closer to family. They have adult children in Christchurch and Dunedin.

He said he was looking forward to opportunities the club offered him, and its 3500 members.

‘‘I thrive on challenges and you can see the opportunities that can go on here. It’s a pretty big place so there are all different options to open up to generate income from here.

‘‘I’ve never run a bottle store before, or a Super Liquor, so that’s a new challenge for me.

His Whakatane role was his first time at an RSA.

‘‘There is a lot of ceremonial process that goes on. They have welfare structures and things like that, which I wasn’t too involved in.

‘‘I’m an operational, hands-on sort of person,’’ he said.

Today will be the first Anzac Day in three years where Downes will not be involved in RSA remembrances. He will however lay a wreath with MSA president John Withell during the civic service at Ashburton. On Anzac Day afternoon the Ashburton Club and MSA has its weekly roast meal option from 1pm and the MSA choir section will perform, for free, a war era concert from 2pm.

‘‘A lot of places don’t open on Anzac Day because of the cost,’’ new general manager Cliff Downes said.

‘‘My key philosophy is to reduce outgoings.’’

Downes has spent more than 12 years in the hospitality industry, mainly working in club environments.

He also owns two personnel businesses - More Staff Ltd in Christchurch and Vital Hospitality in Auckland.

‘‘I am a great believer in transparency and if you want to know anything, just ask me and I will answer to the best of my ability,’’ he said.

Downes is a former first-five-eight rugby player for Auckland. He has played with the likes of Frank Bunce and the Whetton brothers.

He finally hung up his boots from premier rugby aged 39.

Nowadays he is more of a spectator, and since moving to Ashburton is looking for a club to support.

In the past couple of weeks he had identified some areas where the club could "save a fair bit of money. I’ve looked at the finances and thought we are paying too much on that".

‘‘Just looking at the processes and using my experience from previous places, I know what’s too expensive and what’s not. There’s a good chunk of expense we can pull out of that.’’

A potential sale of sports land at Racecourse Rd, used by the club’s bowling green and petanque sections, had been under consideration, he said.

‘‘It’s sort of stalled. We’re still debating it, seeing what we are going to do. It’s the middle of the petanque season at the moment so we are not going to do anything to disrupt them,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s possibly an opportunity.’’

Downes said he is an open and transparent manager and happy to be the face of the club.

The door to his office, being relocated downstairs, was always open to staff or any of the club’s 3500 members.

He said following the recent closures of Speight's and Armadillos in Ashburton there had been flow-on effects for club membership.

‘‘We are seeing a lot more younger people come in,’’ he said.

‘‘The future of any club, and not just this one, is getting younger members in and becoming family orientated.’’