THE three sisters behind successful Newcastle label High Tea With Mrs Woo have bought a run-down Islington block with their partners in view of forming a creative community hub.
The 84 Fern Street lot was bought by Rowena Foong and her partner artist Brett McMahon, Angela Foong and her architect partner Matt Travis of Shac, and Juliana Foong and her artist-jeweller partner Ben Gallagher. Already fans of Islington, where High Tea has its factory, the group decided to pool their finances.
“We are all self-employed creatives and the difficult thing about that is to be able to get a loan financially and be financially stable,” Angela says.
“We couldn’t do it individually because none of us earn enough so we thought if we teamed up together and as a family we might be able to do something collectively.”
The 208-square-metre site had little more than a “weird” storage shed on it, however the appeal lay in its B4 mixed use zoning, with council viewing the area as a future urban density hub.
For now, the group is reactivating the space as The Fernery: McMahon has already moved his studio into one half of the work shed; there are plans to turn the other side into a showroom and workshop area; and on Fridays, Retro Kombi serves coffee from 7am to 11am before the Red Belly Gourmet truck serves lunch from 11.30am to 2.30pm.
“We are providing a quirky space for people to have coffee and lunch and meet up with their friends, so it feels like the street is vibrant and it’s a test to do it,” says Angela.
“The idea is that this Fernery is a place to meet and gather and host events and to promote design and art and creativity.”
The group’s long-term vision is to design and build “a very small and interesting commercial and residential mixed development that pays homage to the neighbourhood rather than being something that doesn’t fit”.
“We’ve seen so many changes in Newcastle, what we don’t like is all the big developments, you lose the quirky characters that are down low,” says Angela.
“So if you can do things that are small and interesting and create hubs then it keeps the neighbourhood local and safe and interesting and that’s the sort of place we want to live in.”