Life has come full-circle for 66 High Street North in Carterton. The heritage building was home to the Wairarapa Farmers’ Co-operative Association (WFCA), founded in 1892 by charismatic businessman Myer Caselberg; believed to have been the first to use the old Māori track in Martinborough for transporting goods by horse. Under Caselberg’s leadership, the WFCA became an active stock and station agency and the largest inland trading organisation in the North Island – also founding eight retail stores, a cheese and butter factory and vehicle dealerships.

In 2018, the newly-decorated WFCA building is once again a hive of business activity. This time, the hive is called 3Mile: a co-working space for local small business owners, freelancers, home office workers and entrepreneurs. While the WFCA supported innovation and growth in pastoral business, the team behind 3Mile hopes it will attract a new generation of innovators, whose ideas – whether for brand new smartphone apps, game designs, artificial intelligence technology for conferences, or even 3D-printed artificial limbs – can revitalise Wairarapa’s economy.

Though 3Mile is the first of its kind in Wairarapa, co-working spaces are something of a phenomenon in the business world. In these office hubs, professionals work on independent projects for different clients or companies, but can be energised by and make connections with like-minded people. An antidote to the isolation that can come with remote work. 3Mile co-founder Marie-Claire Andrews, herself an app designer and event technology specialist, says innovation can thrive in co-working spaces. Those with bright new ideas or inventive business concepts can meet with entrepreneurs with the experience or net worth to help develop their project and get it off the ground.

“A big part of co-working is sharing and networking,” Marie- Claire says. “There’s a real energy and buzz that happens when smart and passionate people work together and spark off each other. Business owners can galvanise each other and provide the support they need to keep going, so their companies don’t fade away. Even better, we can come up with new companies which bring money and new jobs to a region.”

And with such people as Carterton’s Carly Webber, social media strategist for the event technology sector (that is, tech advances to support the running of large events), and Masterton Fab-Lab co-founder (and 3D printer extraordinaire) Kirsten Browne already gaining attention, 3Mile is off to a good start.

“We want to show that Wairarapa isn’t just a place where you come to slow down. Obviously, people come here because it’s more relaxed, because the scenery is gorgeous and the wine is delicious. But this can also be a place where people can create apps and write groundbreaking new software.”

When Marie-Claire moved to Carterton last November, she noticed a co-working space was “conspicuous by its absence”.“It was a surprise, as so many people work from home here. People had talked about setting one up, but no one had done anything.” Once unpacked and settled in, Marie-Claire had her new neighbours over for drinks. One of whom was Carterton Mayor John Booth, who lives next door.

“A few bottles of wine later, I mentioned how cool a co-working space would be in Carterton. John said I better make it happen, because he knows where I live!”

That night, she put an advertisement on Neighbourly, asking for help with the new venture. Within a few weeks, the new 3Mile team had received $1000 from Jo Kelly and Co Real Estate, funding from Carterton District Council, furniture from Nood in Wellington and a coffee machine from Upper Hutt collective Able Coffee. Carterton electrician Rob Stockley offered to help with the wiring and light fightings, while several other locals put their hands up to paint the inside of the building.

“It was a great community effort. I think people do want to feel proud of this town,” Marie-Claire says.

At 3Mile, workers have the option of either hot-desking or booking their own desk space and can hold meetings with clients at the meeting table or the sofa breakout space. Marie-Claire envisions the space will be a haven for those who work from home and need to escape from “the kids screaming and the laundry piling up”.

3Mile team leader and shareholder Peter Veltkamp, a graphic designer, hopes 3Mile will also attract hopeful business owners, who may need extra motivation from seasoned executives.

“We entrepreneurs need a bit of ego stroking and moral support,” Peter says. “Some people can feel nervous about starting a new business, but we want them to come here and be encouraged.”

He and Marie-Claire are running workshops, providing advice on funding and grants, marketing and growing business through social media. And they will be using the space to get their own work done.

“I’ve got a lovely home office. But, I’m looking forward to closing the doors behind me at 5.30pm, cuddling my cats and having a wine,” Marie-Claire says.

Story by Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Photography by Jannelle Preston-Searle