Publish date: 14/03/2019

The former Waikuku School on State Highway 1 is unrecognisable after its transformation into North Canterbury’s newest boutique retail and lifestyle destination.

The Old School Collective, as the site is now known, comprises nine individual retail and lifestyle businesses. Each business operates out of its own space - a former classroom or administrative building - with the old quadrangle (replete with four-square and ball game lines on the asphalt) creates a spacious central hub edged with complementary landscaping.

Co-founder of the operation, Lisa Willetts, moved to North Canterbury six years ago from Christchurch. Two years later she started her pre-loved clothing boutique, Louis Who, which eventually moved into the Brick Mill complex just up the road from the Old School Collective. In late 2017 she saw the Waikuku School site for sale and with friend and fellow retailer Sandy Williams hatched the idea for their new venture.

“The clothing thing just started out as a hobby for me,” she recalls. “It was only ever meant to be a pop-up type thing, not long term. I went from that, to running the shop three days a week, and now here I am doing this!”

As well as purchasing the site, arranging all of the relevant consents, completely fireproofing the premises, installing wheelchair access, renovating, repainting, landscaping and finding tenants for each of the retail spaces, Lisa and Sandy have moved their businesses - Louis Who and Twine Antiques - to the Collective. “It’s been full on,” says Lisa, “but it’s come up beautifully and we’re just really excited.”

In case she wasn’t busy enough, Lisa also opened a new business at the site - The Office Café, housed in the former school office.

“I’ve run cafes before, but this is the first time I’ve owned one,” she says. “We’re aiming for a family-friendly environment, with lots of healthy options plus some yummy favourites. Good, local produce – organic where possible – is a real focus for us.”

The Office Café, Louis Who and Twine Antiques are joined by The Yoga Club yoga studio, The Health Project integrative health coaching, Room Six design and gift store, Out Of The Box Hair Studio, WovenVeranda outdoor wicker furniture and Good Dirt Flowers. The tenants are a range of new businesses, existing businesses moving from elsewhere, and existing business owners trying something new.

“We see the Collective as a good opportunity for new businesses to give it a go, with the support of a collaborative environment,” explains Lisa.

Jenni Dobbie, owner of well-known Amberley store Ruby Six, concurs. She opened a new shop in the Old School Collective offering a carefully curated collection of artisanal, well-designed and sustainable lifestyle products. “I was looking for the right place to open my new concept store, Room Six, and I jumped at the chance to work with the other members of the Collective," she explains.

Jenni wasn’t the only one who was quick to grab the opportunity. “We have had a huge amount of interest in the site and, despite not advertising at all, we have filled all but one of the available spaces,” says Lisa.  “We’ve had a lot of enquiries about the remaining space and we’re hoping to fill it with something just as special as the rest of our tenants.”

Lisa, Sandy and their tenants are hoping their customer base will consist of locals, families and visitors passing the site en route to destinations further afield. “This is a great destination for the Waikuku locals,” says Lisa. “There’s not a huge number of eateries or retail options available for them right now. We also see this as a family destination on the weekends where you can come for the amazing food and do a bit of shopping. There’s lots of space and there’s heaps of parking out the back. There’s yoga, there’s a hair salon, there’s a health coach… this is a uniquely North Canterbury experience; a lifestyle destination; the antidote to sterile inner-city sameness.”

The Old School Collective is now open at 1429 Main North Road, Waikuku. Visit https://www.facebook.com/oldschoolcollectivewaikuku/ for details and updates.

Click here to view a video from their opening event.