Interview with Aileen MacDonald, Chair – Renew Armidale Inc.
The team at Creative New England and UNE Life are really enjoying sharing stories about people and organisations in our community doing great things. One organisation that is really shining right now is Renew Armidale.
Renew Armidale is an incredible facilitator making shop front business more accessible for creatives, startups, and go-getters in Armidale. We spent some time with Aileen MacDonald, Chair – Renew Armidale Inc. to talk about this brilliant project!
Tell us a little bit about Renew Armidale
Renew Armidale is about activating empty urban spaces with something a little different to the ‘normal retail options’ by working with Landlords and borrowing spaces – then through a licencing /participation agreement working with creative entrepreneurs to breathe back life into our community spaces. I am currently the Chair of Renew Armidale Inc and work with a diverse board to bring about change.
Tell us a little bit about your role at Renew Armidale?
I have been involved now since early 2017 when as President of the Guyra and District Chamber of Commerce held a community forum in Guyra with the Founder, Marcus Westbury and General Manager, Christopher Saunders of Renew Armidale as guest speakers to talk about ‘why Renew’ and how can we replicate their success.
Then spent the next twelve months convincing others that we should indeed get something going for our Region. In early 2018 our team registered the incorporated Association and ‘Renew Armidale’ was born. My role and the role of the board members is to find the spaces, negotiate with the Landlords to borrow the space, and then find creatives to fill them.
In doing that – we run on the smell of an oily rag – we are all volunteers and we seek sponsorships from organisations who share our vision. The drought, bush fires and now coronavirus has had an impact on the length of time taken to ‘fill empty spaces – one space a time’ but we know it is worth it as the way we use spaces has completely changed. We are now looking for an experience rather than ‘just retail’. It is slowly coming together and we have been patient.
Why is Renew Armidale so important for our region?
Life is about work/life and balance and we need more of that balance – we need great experiences and a community that is welcoming of these experiences. We need to stop the drain from our region of talented start-up and young people and Renew Armidale offers that opportunity to try something and see if you can make a go of it and also to enjoy the benefits of living in a major regional centre with access to education (all levels and types – secondary, TAFE and importantly linking in the Smart Region Incubator at UNE), as well as health and our natural surrounds. We are close to other centres, but can be in Sydney if we need to be within two hours once flights are fully resumed.
People moving to the region want to be assured that there is something to come to and to enjoy – Renew Armidale can offer that or allow them to participate.
Renew Armidale is pretty special, why is this project so important for our community?
Our community is looking for something to attract us back into our retail spaces. We do not want to leave our beautiful community but if nothing changes then there is little hope.
Who will Renew Armidale benefit and why?
Renew Armidale will benefit young people and creatives beneficiaries together with anyone who has an idea.
The region benefits because it becomes a hub of activity and hopefully the flow-on effects are that it will attract others to either start-up or open a new venture and for the eating places to offer different operating hours to cater for all the activity. Anyone can be involved and we encourage a cross-cultural experience to happen.
Renew Armidale is for everyone, we want the community to feel empowered and included.
We really love this project – can you tell us a little about where the idea for Renew Armidale come from?
I read the book ‘Creating Cities’ by Marcus Westbury after my husband encouraged me to do so. My husband said we should do something like this up here. So I invited Marcus and Christoper to Guyra to tell us all about it. After that, I was hooked and knew we had to do something. I am passionate about my community and did not want my community to be lost or swallowed up by other circumstances.
Who can get involved in Renew Armidale and in what capacity?
Anyone can get involved – right now we are looking for a Secretary for the Board but it that’s not your thing, you might just have a great idea and need a retail/or a work space, we can help with this too!
We want Renew Armidale to be about ideas and what is possible and then go about making it possible. Artists; creatives; people who have started hobbies and are doing them at home in a shed – come out and show us how you do it.
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What kinds of creativity are you looking for in the programs?
We don’t want to limit what kind of creatives can be in the program – if you have an idea then Renew Armidale is for you!
How can creative people get involved?
We have a website that we encourage creatives to put in an expression of interest – or if you just want to talk to one of us – we are good with that too – you can contact me directly, Aileen MacDonald 0417 079 307
Can you tell us a little about who is already involved and what they plan to do?
At the moment we have four participants and they vary from an Artist’s collective, headed by Deborah Page – Her space is part gallery, part workshop/ studio; artist’s talks and networking together with workshops for the community to learn different art styles – there is a collective of different artists involved.
Then we have Alice Armitage of Pandaemonium – The space will be curated for local entrepreneurs to work from as well as delivering support services in the form of events, mentors, and experts in residence. The space will give those involved access to the support, resources, and community encouragement they need to grow their business or to get to work on an idea they have. The space will also be used to exhibit the work of those involved to the public. Both within Armidale and our existing online community. So essentially a Community and Co-Working space for creatives, innovators, and self-starters to call home.
We also have Clique headed by Nicky Carey and she is offering local hand-made items and then there is Clarrissa Edwards – who is offering Bespoke articles, soft furnishing, and furniture pieces from recycled materials – its a studio/gallery selling objects primarily for the home that are beautifully affordable, sustainable and useful.
New to the offering will be a Charity shop a store Charity Shop – selling second-hand clothes/furniture, etc and this will support the Animal Welfare League.
What is one message you would give to any aspiring business owners that would like to be a part of this project?
Talk to us – if you have a passion or want to try something new and exciting – don’t wait – you can start now, we’re here to help!
What’s the best creative advice you’ve received?
Keep all options open – do not rule anything out – see things as a child would and you won’t be disappointed.
And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a part of the New England community?
There are many things – the four seasons; the people who make up our community – the lifestyle and the opportunities just waiting to happen.
Thank you so much for your time Aileen, we’re really lucky to have people like you and your team driving activity like this in our community!
Renew Armidale is sponsored by the University of New England and the University is supporting its current online meetings and workshops.
There’s something for everyone! #CreativeNewEngland