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Renew Newcastle Departs

4 February 2019 | Posted in: News

Memories in pictures. Written by: Neroli Foster

After 10 years of cultural participation that has turned heads on an international stage, Renew Newcastle will cease to operate on 8 March.

General Manager, Christopher Saunders says “it has been a great victory getting this far, but it is disappointing that the financial hurdles of establishing a participatory community space in a quiet city corner have become insurmountable”.

“We have invested every last dollar and every ounce of ourselves to attract, support and promote new and existing events to establish The Station as a venue. But at a time and a location that is yet to be on people’s list as a destination it has been impossible to generate enough income to continue.”

Despite statistical proof of a 14:1 return on investment and long-term financial partnerships, all existing funding sources ceased shortly after Renew won the tender for The Station in late 2017. In 2018, the organisation received a donation from Hunter Water, was awarded a few small grants and HCCDC invested in acquisition of equipment for use at The Station.

“With very little income for the past 12 months, and a costly path to opening The Station, we no longer have any capacity to absorb the expenses of establishing the venue. As a not for profit organisation the financial risk of continuing is not one the board of Renew Newcastle are able to take.”

For 10 years Renew has been a major catalyst for renewal in Newcastle creating change from the ground up. During this time 82 properties have been activated with 264 participants.  174 participants have gone on to operate successful businesses. The 16 current studio based enterprises are now commencing to seek new premises.

As an organisation Renew Newcastle was created as a structure to enable temporary activation of underutilised space. It was based around making a city work for people with creativity not capital. It was software rather than hardware. It encouraged experimentation not permanent solutions. As such Renew has delivered in spades.

Some of the key benefits include the creation of jobs and skills development; volunteer engagement; mitigation of blight; improved business confidence and improved regional brand value. Renew removed the barriers to entry, lowered the cost and complexity of participation and encouraged artistic risk by allowing people to try new creative ideas.

“Renew approached the opportunity presented with The Station with this same vigour and ideology. It has been a platform for experimentation.”

Since The Station opened in October, 22 weeks ago, Renew has worked with 25 individuals, local businesses and organisations to host almost 40 events. These 25 collaborators have brought a vibrant array of activity from parkour, live art and yoga to robotics, music and comedy events. Alongside this, four indoor spaces have hosted longer term tenancies offering retail, hospitality, education and start up innovation. Renew also enabled the installation of free wifi on the platform.

The vision for the Station was beginning to take shape but without a plump bottom line it is not commercially viable for an organisation to continue.

“Low visitor numbers to the city make it difficult to attract enough foot traffic and destinational visitors to cover the costs of hosting events. As a new venue, in this location, negotiating commercial fees for hire has been almost impossible. As a community space, offering free events, is an expectation.”

Renew has always been about supporting local artists and experimental businesses. Renew’s presence in Newcastle for the past 10 years has shown that cultural participation creates a unique and vibrant city. Winning the tender to operate The Station was an opportunity to expand on this using public space.

“It is regrettable that as an organisation we are not able to continue to support cultural activity as part of our developing city. Tribute must be given to everyone over the last ten years who believed in the vision, who showed up to support, who rolled up their sleeves and participated to help renew Newcastle.”