13 March 2024

Welcome to Wollongong's hidden creative hub - Society City

| Zoe Cartwright
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Josh Shimmen

Josh Shimmen is on the hunt for volunteers who are keen to help reinvigorate creative community collective Society City. Photo: Zoe Cartwright.

If you wander up Crown Street and keep going past the mall, past Humber, Cash Converters and Heyday til you see some brightly painted steps just inside a doorway on your right, you’ll find one of Wollongong’s best-kept secrets.

Society City started as a member-run community collective secondhand bookshop with big dreams as part of the Renew Wollongong initiative in 2019.

It’s evolved into a truly punk space, hosting poetry slams, gigs, fundraisers and art exhibitions, as well as offering a free co-working space with the most affordable cup of coffee you’re likely to find in the CBD.

It’s a truly eclectic mix – on any given night you’re as likely to find an internationally renowned poet as a bunch of 13-year-olds playing their first gig.

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Manager Josh Shimmen said Society City was a place that nurtured young creative talent.

“We want to keep it hyper local; all the artists we get in are new and emerging artists,” he said.

“We do the gallery space for free because there are a lot of artists out there who can’t afford to show their work in a gallery; any prizes we do for events are all vouchers to local restaurants and we’re working on sourcing all our drinks from local brewers.

“People come in to eat their lunch and hang out on the couch and do a bit of work. We do $3 coffees and $7 drinks. We’re not beholden to investors, everything here is community driven, hand-done, or donated.

“It’s a bit chaotic, it’s a bit ad-hoc, a bit half-baked and that’s half the charm.”

Chaotic, ad-hoc and charming, walking into Society City feels like you're visiting your much cooler uni mate's place.

Chaotic, ad-hoc and charming, walking into Society City feels like you’re visiting your much cooler uni mate’s place – and you can grab a coffee for just $3. Photo: Zoe Cartwright.

Josh has been a member for the past four years and took on a more active role in mid-2023.

He wants to reinvigorate the hub for Wollongong’s budding creatives so the space is utilised more often.

His ultimate goal is to prove that Society City’s by the community, for the community model can work financially as well as socially.

“It gives you a space where you’re free to exist, and there aren’t many places you can go where you’re free to exist,” he said.

“If you go to a cafe you need to pay for a coffee; if you go to a bar you need to pay for drinks. Here, there’s no expectation.

“It’s like your friend’s house that happens to have a bar and a bookshop in it.

“But the rent still needs to get paid, and if we can make money for the venue we can become our own commercial investment and hopefully get to the point where we can donate to local charities each month.

“That’s our end goal, to keep the doors open and keep that community feel.”

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As a collective, the venue relies on people power as much as it does on cash.

The collective is on the hunt for volunteers who are passionate about creativity, and who share the collective’s ethos of inclusivity.

“Spaces like this just don’t exist anymore; it takes people to drive it forward,” he said.

“We’re always on the hunt for more volunteers – people drop in and out as life gets in the way, work, study, family, but the only reason places like this survive is people like this getting involved.”

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