Combining art, vintage fashion and handmade goods, The Woods is Renew Newcastle’s latest project to open its doors. In addition to sharing what floats their own boat, Sophia Flegg, Elsie Stuart and Chelsey Johns want their freshly painted space to become an opportunity for other local emerging artists and designers to show Newie what they’ve got.
Aloud. sat down recently with the three girls behind The Woods for a chat about vegan food, starting a Newcastle Archibald and why Renew Newcastle is slowly transforming the Steel City into a testing ground for a growing creative community.
ALOUD: Let’s start by introducing THE WOODS?
CHELSEY JOHNS: We are a gallery, vintage and handmade store which brings together all the things we do individually so that we can share them with Newcastle.
ALOUD: Can you describe what each of you brings to THE WOODS?
SOPHIA FLEGG: I do the artwork and source records. I am also looking for other people to show their work in our space.
ELSIE STUART: I source vintage clothing and furniture.
CHELSEY: I am in the process of finding a commercial kitchen to bring my vegan cooking to The Woods. I started a blog Like a Vegan about a year ago which has made me realize that there are a lot of people interested in this type of cuisine in Newcastle. I also make little bits and pieces that I bring into the store.
ALOUD: You have all spent some time in Sydney or Melbourne. What is it about Newcastle that makes projects like The Woods possible?
SOPHIA: I love Melbourne and I’ll probably like to move back there at some stage but at the moment, there are so many opportunities here with projects like Renew Newcastle. I like that these kinds of things are happening and to be a part of it. It’s redefining the city as something else than just being an industrial sports town.
CHELSEY: Every part of Sydney has something going on whereas in Newcastle, there are pockets that are a bit undiscovered and provide opportunities to grow small businesses. You won’t be able to walk into one of these shops and find the exact same thing in Sydney. It makes it really beautiful.
ALOUD: Why do you think The Woods ticked all the Renew Newcastle boxes and got a space?
SOPHIA: From the start, we wanted to offer something a little bit different by escaping certain genres, not because we don’t like them but because Newcastle needs some diversity. The Woods is a bit more masculine. We really wanted to incorporate something that would appeal to guys as well as girls.
CHELSEY: That’s the beauty about having the three of us bringing a different side to the shop. Someone might come in specifically for Sophia’s art, and then, discover the clothes or the food. We have something for everyone and enough to keep it exciting over time.
ALOUD: It seems to me that the key to the success of little shops like yours is to find ways to engage and reach out to the community. Have you thought about ways to do that?
SOPHIA: We want to share the opportunity we were given with other creative people in Newcastle. We have a great space and we want to encourage people to email us, bring their stuff in, come and see us so they can get involved as well. We have a lot of ideas. The other day we were joking around about having a Newcastle Archibald and having a competition. We want to give people a reason to come through our doors.
ALOUD: How do you feel about what you have accomplished so far, even in these early days, and the road ahead?
SOPHIA: I’m proud of the work we have done. It has been huge but I think that even beyond that, we are doing our bit to make Newcastle a better place.
ELSIE: We love Newcastle, we wouldn’t be here otherwise. There are so many other places we could be. Thinking back just a year before Renew Newcastle started, the city centre was a ghost town. People really support Renew Newcastle and projects like ours. It’s our chance to show that we can make it work and give back.
CHELSEY: This is giving us the opportunity to get our foot in the door, get a feel for it, find out if it is something we do want to do and if people are interested in it. Probably one day, we will be told we have to leave because this is the deal with RN but I’m proud of whatever we have achieved so far. Hopefully, when that day comes, we will be ready to make it even bigger and better.
The Woods are currently seeking expressions of interest from artists / photographers / musicians to take part in a group exhibition revolving around the work of Nick Cave (his music, writing, characters). You can email them at [email protected] and the best way to stay up to date with what’s happening in the store is still to ‘LIKE’ The Woods on Facebook.