Walton St Cafe – Te Awamutu’s Creative Collective
If you’re passing through T.A., check out Walton St Cafe
Te Awamutu is a gorgeous town smack bang in the middle of the North Island, christened the Rosetown of New Zealand. TA’s borne its share of creativity in its time, our crowning jewel are the Finn brothers of Split Enz and Crowded House fame.
It’s a rural town, the gigantic shining dairy factory on the fringe of the town lending the sweet bouncy aroma of processed milk to waft throughout the residences every day at around 3pm. Being home to a meagre 12,000, TA’s considered a small town and attractions and activities for youth are sparse. The drinking culture reigns supreme, challenged only by teenage promiscuity culture. In short, TA is the perfect place for young Kiwis to grow up. With the excess calories from beer and regular exercise from sleeping around in the weekends, most Te Awamutuans are fit and strong.
Indeed, Te Awamutu breeds stunning sportspeople. As a student, if you could swing a stick or handle a ball, you’d be looked upon fondly by teachers and parents alike. Playing in a band or doing long division? Not as much. Painting, writing, filmmaking, such interests categorise you away from the masses. So what do you if you find yourself in a small town wanting to be in a creative industry? You leave. You go somewhere bigger with more opportunity. Right? Sure. OR, you bring the party to the small town.
That’s what these guys (and gals) did with the Walton St Cafe. Chris, Carl, Kat, Zoe, Tash. Creative people with kids who enjoy living in Te Awamutu, they’ve created this creative spot where art can happen, and the public can also score a decent feed and great coffee. Wind and traffic lights be damned, TA is the new Wellington.
I first came across Walton St about a year ago. It’d been up and running for eighteen months, but I was unfamiliar with it. I thought I knew every nook in this town, and here I was across the road from the Court House (where I’ve regretfully spent some time) peering inside inside a building I’d never taken much notice of before. It had been completely transformed. Where before was a nondescript electrician’s where friends and I had stolen blown fluorescent lightbulbs (you know the long ones?) to smash over each other’s backs, was now this!
To be honest, I felt out of place. I didn’t know if I qualified as cool enough for a place like this. I was greeted with vegetarian food, organic juice, murals on walls, children books and chocolate on shelves, stylish clothing on racks being stocked by a STUNNING BLONDE LADY (my schoolfriend Tash), melting pot furniture housing laughing customers, and casually dressed staff busy behind the counter, chatting and being cool.
In fact, I wandered around for around thirty seconds, smiling shyly when confronted by another human, then left.
Fast forward a couple of years. I’ve spent five months overseas editing my film, and I’m back visiting my mum. I had a week before I headed Wellingtonward, so I popped into Walton St again.
‘Heeeyyyyyy!’ said Tash, welcoming me into her store with strong mummy arms toned from holding up a fourteen month old child.
I looked around, blown away by the place. Tash has managed to combine a rustic vibe with minimalist, clean indie fashion vibe. Plus she has sweets there. YUM!
‘You want the tour?’ she asked, and I nodded. I’ll always nod when Tash asks me a question.
I was led through the cafe area, past the coffee machine that’s perpetually in use, through an airy dining area, complete with children’s playpen.
And lo, I recognised this place… it felt familiar. Of course! The old Te Awamutu brothel and sex shop! Except where were the whores? Why were the walls suddenly clean? It’d been fully renovated.
I met Chris Lane, a filmmaker I’d heard about. TA was alight with chatter about the music video he directed for Avalanche City, Inside Out. I wandered through the open office, nodding hellos to the handful of people hard at work at computers around me. The main window looks out onto Alexandra Street, the main street of TA, and Chris wore bare feet.
Me and Chris nerded out about film stuff for half an hour, during which time I slipped in a few questions about the space. How did it all come about? Where did the money come from? What exactly was the place?
I could see Chris was editing a video, and I had seen a lot of Kat Merewether’s books in the cafe. Kat’s a writer, graphic designer and illustrator, and runs Design on Q. I’d briefly met a cheery bearded man on my way through named Carl Sheridan. Carl is the social nucleus of the cafe and runs Architects of Change with his partner Jo.
‘What is this place?’ I asked Chris a month later over coffee.
Chris kinda laughed and shrugged a bit, and attempted to explain. ‘It started out an office, because we were too poor to afford an office basically. It’s like… the two things we have is coffee and creative… It’s Walton Street.’
I became a Walton St regular when I was home again. Every day the place is busy, especially around lunchtime. Customers sit, drink, eat, run into each other, catch up, then walk through ASH, Tash’s store. There’s a comfortable small-town feeling in the air because everybody seems to know everybody, and there are plenty of regulars.
To go from a brothel and electrician’s to a cafe and creative collective space is a big jump. But it didn’t happen all in one go. It’s been a thirty month process of constantly evolving and growing.
Carl and Chris met at an old cafe called Empire, owned by a lady named Zoe. They originally were looking for an office, that would double as a coffee space. They found the building, at the time a very dank and dark shed, and spent months tearing the place to shreds. A friend Fliss sourced some furniture and set about giving the place its own look, then they asked Zoe (remember her from Empire where it all started?) if she’d be interested in kitting the cafe out. She was, and she did.
Walton St Cafe was starting to come together. After a free trip to the design conference SemiPermanent, Carl flicked one of the speakers a message with the idea of a collaboration. Askew1, world renowned graffiti artist, was enthused by the idea of painting a mural on the main outside wall for free, if the Walton St crew would foot the bill of materials.
When the brothel became the office, Kat from Design on Q became part of the team, and her daughter Opal was the inspiration for the mural. Askew1 managed to fit Te Awamutu in his schedule between LA and Dublin.
With the cafe gaining popularity and the brothel-turned office cleaned up and operational, there was a space near the entrance that had potential for something more. Enter ASH.
Apart from the very obvious sexism on show (males can currently only peruse hats and wallets – I’ve been assured there will be menswear soon), ASH is slick as heck. It’s free flowing from the cafe, and you’re encouraged to wander and socialise as you please. Plus there are sweets.
Okay, so there’s coffee, food, a creative office space and a shop specialising in beautiful things. It’s also a venue for non-alcoholic live music gigs. And they make food for teachers at a nearby school every week. Walton St is a hurricane of community goodness. On your next trip to Te Awamutu, be sure to stop in and say hi. They’re really friendly.
More Cool Stuff
Winter can be a bastard Rain getting all over your shoes and making your socks wet? Oh fuck […]Read More ›
No doubt about it, Auckland is the big smoke of New Zealand. I mean that purely figuratively; out of the thousands […]Read More ›
Wonderland Teaser As I mentioned, I’ve been directing ladies in underwear. The last couple of days have included […]Read More ›
Best 20 MOVIES of 2014 as voted by HJW We had some absolute crackers this year. A lot of sequels, remakes, […]Read More ›
What we learned is that Streat Cafe is an ethical, morally virtuous cafe. Not only do they ensure top of the range service and product, they contribute to society in more ways than economical. They train young people who have found themselves in unfortunate circumstances.Read More ›