THE WOODS – NEWCASTLE, Australia – Gallery, Vintage & Handmade.

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 & 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. I sat down recently with the 3 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/musician​s to take part in a group exhibition revolving around the work of Nick Cave (his music, writing, characters). You can Email them at wearethewoods@gmail.com and the best way to stay up to date with what’s happening in the store is still to ‘LIKE’ The Woods on Facebook.

If you know other little projects like this one, I would love to hear from you and help you get the word out there. Email me at contactaloud(at)gmail.com. 

Become a fan of the Aloud. Facebook page to see more links to previous profiles and additional links to websites, films, Art and more. You can also subscribe to this blog and receive regular updates directly to your email.

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8 comments

  1. Jane

    I heartily commend the city of Newcastle for offering incomparable flexibility to entrepreneurs fueled by natural energy and creativity. Novocastrians must be delighted to witness the gentle and generous transformation of their city as new projects including The Woods and others pop up in formerly neglected spots.

    And as this colorful threesome says, even if one day the time comes to move on, the Renew Newcastle experience will have been a growing one.

    Excuse my ignorance, but what is an Archibald? Also, how did you pick your name, The Woods?

  2. Jane

    Also, my compliments on the beauty of the vegan food photos on the “Like a Vegan” blog. It’s generally very hard to pull off something even remotely appetizing when photographing plates of food.

    It’s my treat at our local vegan restaurant, The Spiral Diner (http://www.spiraldiner.com/) if you are ever passing through “Cowtown” (of all the inappropriate names).

    • Chelsey

      Hi Jane,

      Thanks for the compliments! The Spiral Diner looks amazing. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to go on an eating tour of the USA and check it out!

      The Archibald Prize is a prestigious Australian portraiture prize, the subjects are usually prominent Australian people.

      In regards to the name, we were asked this same question by Renew Newcastle and answered “Coming up with a name is so much harder than you think! Throwing words like “Toast” and “Hat” around wasn’t really cutting it so we had to delve a little deeper. We wanted a place we could escape to, something slightly sinister, wild and majestic. All of these things we found in the name The Woods.”

      -Chelsey

  3. Chelsey, Thank you for your comments. I think “The Woods” is a great name. Intriguing and poetic, a bit like your little shop. Keep up the good work and I’m looking forward to the first edition of our very own Newie Archibald.

  4. Jane

    Thanks Chelsey, for explaining things to me. I’ve just read up on the Archibald Prize and admired a number of the 2011 runners up.

    I hope to visit The Woods one day and discover this world of its own that you three have created.

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