A Little Old, A Little New: Revisiting RoseyRavelston Bookstore

Cath and Zac of RoseyRavelston (photo supplied)

Story and photos by Belle Butler

Second-hand bookstore and social enterprise RoseyRavelston has moved to Lawson-town. While the core of their business remains the same – donating 50% of their profits to refugee support and advocacy – the move has prompted adaptation and diversification, which has opened up new collaborations and opportunities for the business and the community. (Read our first article on RoseyRavelston here)

Key Points:

  • Social enterprise RoseyRavelston has moved into historic premises, ‘Lyttleton’, in Lawson.
  • They have embraced their new location, diversifying, collaborating and continuing to grow.
  • New events such as Locals Night and the Mini Markets provide opportunities for the social enterprise and community alike.

On the north side of the tracks in Lawson, where local horses used to snort and neigh and take their nightly rest, people now gather. In a cosy nook on a velveteen chair one woman admires her cake and says to another: “This is becoming a real community hub.” Behind them, there is an attractive display of orange and blue spined books. Next to them, the recent works of a local artist.

They rest their feet upon the ‘herringbone’ bricks of the original stable, but no longer can the clip clop of hoof be heard. No longer can the earthy scent of hay and horse be smelt, but rather, the curiously moreish mix of coffee and gnocchi.  

This little scene represents yet another iteration in the story of these historical premises, known as ‘Lyttleton’, as well as the next iteration in the story of the (mostly) second-hand bookstore and social enterprise RoseyRavelston.

Roseyravelston In the old stables of Lyttleton

In the old stables of Lyttleton

The premises at 1 Badgerys Crescent were originally built in 1884 by John Geggie and named  ‘Lyttleton’ after his wife’s maiden name, Lyttle. Functioning as a house, garden and business, it was the first store in Lawson as well as the original post office.

In the 1970s it was renamed ‘Badgerys Attic’ and became an antique shop, which it remained under various owners until it was bought and lovingly restored by the Carmichael-Parissi family in 2015. They turned the premises into an organic food and retail shop and atelier, ‘Lyttleton Stores Co-Operative’, thus reviving the original name “to link with its history and create a local alternative to corporate big business with space for connecting community,” said Erst Carmichael. In addition it included an Atelier that sold the work of local artisans and artists. It also ran workshops where people could learn skills for resilience and sustainability. 

As for RoseyRavelston, the bookstore was established as an online venture in 2020 by owners Cath and Zac in an effort to combine their love of books with their determination to advocate for refugees.

Having previously worked as a social worker and coffee school trainer respectively in detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, they had witnessed “appalling” conditions and decided to run their business as a social enterprise, giving 50% of their profits to refugee support.

mushrooms at rosey ravelston lawson

Fresh produce, coffee and chats.

As the business grew, they moved their books into the co-working space at Nauti Studios, Hazelbrook, where they valued the co-working community and ease of collaboration. Then, when an opportunity arose for RoseyRavelston to share the current premises in Lawson with Lyttleton Stores Co-Operative, they excitedly jumped. “Coming here we were collaborating with Lyttleton, which was great because they had similar values,” said Cath. “It was such a good partnership.”

Unfortunately, Lyttleton Stores Co-Operative closed their retail space earlier this year, and RoseyRavelston was faced with the daunting and exciting prospect of expanding. Ultimately, the extra rent and extra space has resulted in extra opportunities for collaboration and community engagement. “Building on what Lyttleton had done here with the community was so important to us,” said Cath. 

at rosey ravelston

Bori enjoying a hot beverage while Cath stokes the fire.

In a nod to that commitment, RoseyRavelston have opened up half of their premises as a community space, with ethically sourced coffee/tea and locally made goodies available, comfy spots to sit, books to read and artworks to admire. The difference to your average coffee or food space is, you don’t actually have to buy anything. “There is a lack of community spaces in the world in general,” Zac said. “We wanted to create a space people can go and hang and not feel like they have to buy something.”

Cath added: “This is a place you can come to meet people, but we also want to make sure to have nooks for introverts or those wanting to sit alone. That’s really important to us, being inclusive. The garden space is dogs-on-leash friendly, and we really want to make it a safe space for LGBTQi+ and neuro-diverse communities.”

live music at roseyravelston in lawson

Andy and Antony Mann playing some tunes in the bookshop.

The success of the space is also a result of a collaboration between RoseyRavelston and gnocchi-maker Fi Kennedy of ‘Gnocked Up!,’ who moved the business from Newcastle this year. “It’s a simple one plus one equals three concept,” said Zac. “Working together helps to grow both businesses.”

Fi is equally positive about the new partnership. “There’s a lot of mental support in collaborating with people who share the same values as well as benefits to both businesses,” she said, then added, “It’s a bit weird but we like it – coffee, books and gnocchi!”

Gnocked up gnocchi making at Lyttleton

Left: Fi making her ‘even-nonnas-love-it’ gnocchi. Right: Cath at the coffee machine.

The partnership is just one way in which RoseyRavelston has adapted to new circumstances. On Thursdays from 3:30-6:30 they host ‘Locals Night’, teaming up with Farm it Forward and Earthrising Mushrooms to supply the community with local produce, while community members are invited to hang out, chat, listen to or play music.

“Bring a musical instrument to jam, or just sit and chat. Let’s all hang out and make use of this wonderful space,” said Cath. Similarly, on Sundays they hold ‘Mini Markets’ and invite local stallholders to sell their goods.

‘Locals Night’ at RoseyRavelston.

‘Locals Night’ at RoseyRavelston.

They have also turned part of the front cottage into a co-working space, in which a desk can be used for $19 a day. Social enterprises are invited to use this space to meet and host workshops at subsidised rates.

While diversifying has been part of the excitement of inhabiting the new premises, it has also been a response to the community. Zac and Cath are happy to be approached by various community groups wishing to hold their events there. “It’s great,” said Zac. “These events are often about issues we care deeply about but can’t always dedicate as much time to, so for them to utilise our space feels really good.”

outside rosey ravelston

Locals Night

The challenges of running a social enterprise have been met by RoseyRavelston’s enthusiasm and willingness to diversify, collaborate and grow. Alongside the changes, Zac assuredly declares that one thing will never change: “We will never do anything that’s not a social enterprise,” he said. “It’s the only way to run a business. One day we’d like to see a world where every business, small, medium, large is a social enterprise.”

Back at the cosy scene with the velveteen chair, the women are eating cake. They sit by a slow-combustion fire, which is occasionally stoked by Cath. Across from them, someone orders a coffee and Zac starts up the machine.

From the kitchen, servings of melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi emerge, and empty bowls are returned. It’s Thursday: ‘Locals Night.’ A hot pink ‘open’ sign above the old stable doors beckons in the regulars and newcomers alike. They buy fresh produce and gourmet mushrooms to the songs of Lawson musicians Antony and Andy Mann.

Drop in to RoseyRavelston on Local’s Night in this short video

Some stop and stay, placing their chairs among corridors of books, taking in the crystal tones of Andy’s voice folding layers upon his dad’s guitar work. There is an applause, the low hum of close conversations and the whirring of the milk steamer. A passerby remarks: “RoseyRavelston’s lit up like Christmas and doing a roaring trade.”

Indeed. You never know, a local horse might even pop by the old stables for a bit of the action.

Lawson pony Peggy Sue checking out the old Lyttleton stables.

Local pony Peggy Sue checking out the old stables. (Photo supplied)

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This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

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About Belle Butler

Belle Butler is a writer, musician and occasional photographer. She likes mix-and-matching these artforms and often explores the same themes through each of them. Her short fiction has been published in numerous Australian literary journals and she recently received a WestWords Fellowship and Mentorship with Delia Falconer for her novel manuscript, ‘River.’ Hopefully it will be published one day.

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