Menu Search

An honour and a privilege

20 August 2018 | Posted in: News

Story: Marcus Westbury   Photography: Boony Loahajaroenyot

Ten years ago I found myself back in Newcastle with the beginning of a plan. Over the few weeks of late August and early September 2008,  I did the rounds of pretty much any of the city’s stakeholders I could pin down. I met with politicians, lawyers, accountants, property owners, business leaders, did media interviews as I publicly and privately worked through an idea I’d been sitting on for more than a decade before that.

Those first few months — actually the first couple of years — were frantic. Shuttling back and forth between Melbourne and Newcastle. Public meetings. Private negotiations. The slow realisation that I had gotten myself into something that I couldn’t quite get out of. At some point momentum took over and carried me with it. I made about fifty return trips averaging about one a fortnight as I watched an idea that I’d long believed in — that Newcastle’s creative community had the resourcefulness, imagination and resilience to seed a transformation if given the right opportunity — go from improbable, to possible to unstoppable.

If you’d told me back then that Renew Newcastle would go on to fix up and reopen eight properties and support 25 projects in the next decade I would have happily taken it. It’s hard to believe we’ve been involved in 10 times that number: more than 80 properties and 250 projects. Renew has been a catalyst for new businesses, new narratives and a transformation way beyond what I would have thought possible. It has also become a model that has been picked up in dozens of cities and towns around the world.

Over time my role at Renew Newcastle has gradually receded from initiator and driver in those early days; to figurehead, advocate and advisor in the middle years; to the old guy who is occasionally wheeled in or out to help with the odd problem, proposal or project. It’s not a bad thing. As Renew Newcastle has needed me less and less more immediate responsibilities — like 2 kids and a full time day job — have needed me more.

It has been an absolute privilege to be part of this. Renew has been and remains an incredible collaborative effort: Renew Newcastle board members both past and present, the team on the ground that has brought it into being over the years, and most importantly the property owners and participants that have made all this possible.

It’s been an honour to play a small part in helping so many enthusiastic, talented and creative people put their efforts into realising their dreams. It is extraordinary to see what can happen when people band together and start change from the ground up. To go shop by shop, block by block to clean, reopen and transform so much of the city. It is a great legacy to see scores of enduring businesses and careers that have been seeded or supported by Renew.

Ten years seems like a good round number to end my formal roles with Renew. Of course I will remain an enthusiastic supporter, my brain is permanently available to be picked if useful, and I will continue to help if and when I can. Renew is entering an exciting new phase with the coming transformation of The Station. It’s a journey I look forward to experiencing from the other side.