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From tired streets to thriving places...and Sarah Poole's new career

 Meredith Carter

Sarah Poole has always been the creative type, originally training and working as a graphic designer. Talking to the Women's Table at lunch recently she told us about some amazing gigs she's been involved in. Like covering Princes Bridge in the CBD with an image in cotton, satin and sand of the Australia Day logo. Sarah also kick-started the City of Whittlesea Cultural Collection.  

Along the way Sarah was involved in just a few community festivals (understatement!) and working with local communities on an annual Sorry Day Walk was another career highlight. Creative collaborations with indigenous elders and local Stolen Generations also led to the Stolen Generations Marker Project in Darebin.  However a turning point came when Sarah found out that Darebin Council's Economic Development Unit had just received a special funding allocation.. Sarah decided this was an opportunity with her name on it. "You need an arts person on your team" she told the Director wangling herself a new contract of employment and a new career direction 

From Empty Shops to highlights of the Kimberley

Active Spaces began in 2012. The idea was to replace 18 retail vacancies in High Street Northcote with new creative businesses. After three years there had been 38 art installations by 56 artists, 72 part time jobs created and 31 media articles including support from Pop Up Shops Australia   Active Spaces has also collected four awards to date. The results weren't just about less vandalism, less complaints and less damaging graffiti or even greater community wellbeing.

Creative businesses could trial their viability paying real rentals. With Sarah on the job an impressive nineteen short term leases resulted in nine long term leases. There was $233,760 paid in rent in otherwise vacant shops and properties. Building the local creative economy Active Spaces became a very good news story for Darebin Council that continues today. Critical to the project were relationships developed with real estate agents, property owners and property developers. 

Just one example has involved a collaboration between Good Day Rentals and the Melbourne Arts Club. 

They've ensured a existing buildings remain vibrant and secure while proposals for longer term redevelopment are navigated by the developer. Another great example gave the Wilderness Society a shopfront outlet for its short term photo  exhibition highlighting the Kimberley. This was a great relief to the real estate agent who was having difficulty leasing this property due to the bad luck story around the previous business owner.

Another collaboration with a local real estate agent enabled the Neighbourhood House to trial its products in a shopfront, seeing what does and doesn't sell in a different setting to their usual craft markets.

Turning Vacant Spaces into Thriving Places

A big idea can't be confined to one local government area. Sarah has moved on from her Council role to develop her own business. With 'Thriving Places' she's developing the 'active spaces' idea  further afield. Registering her business in October 2015 Sarah has started meeting with real estate agents, creatives and Councils. She is  continually communicating with potential clients – planting seeds and watering them…listening to their concerns…asking questions

and refining her business plan as she goes along. At the moment she is also researching Queen of Shops: Mary Portas  hoping to translate some of what Mary has achieved, learning from her views several years down the track from her pilot series.

One of the biggest hurdles Sarah has encountered has been real estate businesses not wanting the hassle of short term leases. Engaging real estate agents to understand their value requires a cultural shift. Nonetheless those who get it are great advocates for Thriving Places and the idea that these tenancies can promote better quality streets with significant rental flow-on. To keep in touch with Sarah and what Thriving Places is up to click her tab under TWT's Our Community.

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