Cartier Masthead Final Weeks

Westside breathes life into the lakeside

Ashleigh Went

Not too long ago, it would be hard to imagine a vibrant shipping container pop up precinct in the nation’s capital. In the last few years we’ve witnessed Canberra truly come into it’s own, developing a culture and identity that’s authentic and unique.

Standing on what was formerly a desolate, underused futsal slab, Westside Acton Park is a towering edifice that represents so much more than just a pop up village.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr says, “Our city needs to be about our people, our creativity, and our passions”.

Who then is better equipped, then, to meet that need than Stomping Grounds Collective, described by Creative Director and Project Coordinator Terry Shaw as “a collective group of local retailers, designers and developers who came up with the idea of wanting to put Canberra on the map.”

The name of the group came from one of its members, Canberra local Alastair Evans of Lonsdale Street Roasters, who, despite a temporary departure, has always referred to this city as his Stomping Ground.

“The phrase ‘collective’, it’s genuinely true,” says Terry. “The great thing about Westside is that everyone – the government, the private sector, the community and the vendors – have pitched in to make this a success”.

The precinct represents a distinctive moment in Canberra’s history: we’re confident enough to get behind such an ambitious project, bold enough to harness our creativity and innovation, and in the face of delays in delivery of the project – well and truly ready. It’s been more than a year since the inception of the village, and Canberra has waited with bated breath to see what the mysterious “blue and yellow boxes” will offer.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr joins Terry Shaw in promising that Westside is “worth the wait”.

So what exactly can we expect?

“Well, hopefully, Westside will further activate the lake, enhance the cultural aspect of Canberra, encourage and foster small businesses through business incubation, and bear witness to the development of City to the Lake” says Terry. “It’s activated a part of the lake that hasn’t been activated before”.

Indeed, the potential of the space has been laying dormant, occupying a valuable piece of our city. Terry claims “it’s finally giving a return to the community on this investment that the government has made.”

It’s one thing to view the impressive plans drawn up by architect and Stomping Grounds Collective member Ronan Moss, but the vast steel structure exceeds expectations in the flesh.

The top floor of Westside provides sweeping views of the lake and beyond, offering two spectacular yet wildly different experiences of scenic opulence.

For the active among us, Gold’s Gym will be hosting morning yoga, spin and Les Mills classes, offering the opportunity to take in a breathtaking Canberra sun rise while working out. When the sun goes down, Canberrans will no doubt flock to Aviary, Canberra’s first roof top bar, to enjoy a wine while soaking up the view.

The ground floor, littered with shipping containers presents a unique opportunity for local entrepreneurs and small businesses. “It’s a chance for them to pursue their business dreams at low cost,” says Terry.

“Shipping containers don’t cost much to fit out – it’s a peppercorn rent that they’re paying that fills the gap between say the Bus Depot Markets, and a permanent commercial lease. It allows businesses to further explore, develop and refine their offering or their idea without spending a huge amount of money.”

It’s hardly surprising that the chance has been met with enthusiasm from the business community. Vendors include O’ So Smoothie, Miss Vân’s, La Crêpe Authentic French Crêperie, Habiziz, The OneCourtside, Damn Fine Roasters as well as Adrenalin Boardstore, Backbone BMX, Kulture Break and more.

In addition to retailers and hospitality offerings, Terry says “it’s about sports and grassroots communities. We’re engaging with a lot of sports like the Roller Derby, basketball and futsal will be supported.”

Terry says that one of the most exciting elements of Westside is the way that the vendors will change and evolve over time. “We’ve already over subscribed with the containers, so we’ve got people contacting us wanting to come down here but we don’t have the space. We’re planning to activate Stage 2 which will be more ground based.”

Westside presents a flexible space that will play host to cultural, sports and arts events, concerts, exhibitions from a resident artist, basketball street competitions and no doubt many more events over the months or years the village occupies the space.

Educational institutions will play a part as well. The University of Canberra Capitals have donated the basketball hoops, and there are talks of a potential link with the Canberra Institute of Technology. “CIT are looking at potentially running some of there classes down here” says Terry. “It’s about education as well. We want the community to come down and utilise the facilities we have here”.

There’s also Westside Digital – an ecommerce platform that allows vendors to communicate with Stomping Grounds and with each other and provides an event calendar. Terry explains “it’s our goal in the not too distant future that if you like something at Westside and you want to buy it, you can order it online and we’ll deliver it to you.”

In hindsight, Terry questions whether the phrase “pop up” fully captures the vision of this ambitious development. “It’s more of a microcosm of all things Canberra.”

“It’s hugely encouraging to see what we’ve been able to tap into here and create”.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr says “what we’ve developed here is something special for Canberra, and it demonstrates what’s possible when everyone decides they want to have a go and get something done for this city.”

the essentials

What: Westside Acton Park
Where: Barrine Drive, Acton
When: Open now.


Ashleigh Went

HerCanberra ACTIVE Editor Ashleigh Went has a passion for all things health and wellness. As someone who loves champagne and cheese almost as she loves a sweaty workout, she's all about living a healthy, balanced lifestyle. She can usually be found with her nose in a book, planning her next adventure, in the gym or updating her Instagram @wentworthavenue. More about the Author