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Stories

Lost and Found in Regional Australia


Steph Wanless searched desperately for a group, an event, an online community in her home town Armidale, and kept coming up short. She instead decided to create that space herself – FOUND, a creative community for regional women.


Lost and Found in Regional Australia


WORDS: Steph Wanless
IMAGES: Maddison Photography

Growing up in Armidale was pretty idyllic in my book.

I can still remember the smell of honeysuckle in spring and the wood smoke in winter. I can still feel the crunch of leaves underfoot in autumn and the sun on my skin come summer. I remember my brother and I “smashing laps” on our BMX bikes in the cul-de-sac we called home, renting movies from Video EZY every Saturday night, takeaways from Pizza Hut and the way the ice felt against my legs that time it hailed during our netball final. We kept playing. And we won.

But life moves on. Stackhats aren’t what they used to be, Pizza Hut shut down, videos no longer exist, and my right knee wouldn’t stand a chance in a netball grand final.

I moved on too. I left Armidale when I was 18 years old, studied journalism at Newcastle University, worked in advertising and publishing in Sydney, England, then back to Sydney, where I met the man I’m now lucky enough to call my husband. Then in 2019, after 18 years away and with two children in tow, we moved home to Armidale.

The air smells the same, crisp and clean. The old corner shop where I bought mixed lollies from a grumpy guy called Bill is now a Spar Express – and while Bill’s not there these days, I can still buy mixed lollies for my kids from someone far more upbeat.

It still feels like home. It ticks boxes for our family we’ve always longed for – but on the work front, it ticked none. I felt totally and utterly lost when it came to my career, my work’s purpose.

Both my husband and I work for ourselves as copywriters and content strategists. We’re used to operating from home; just us, two cats and the small humans we grew and adore. But working this way in Sydney and Newcastle brought with it opportunities to network outside of the home, with fellow freelancers, creatives and likeminded folk. A much-needed chance to connect and converse with people in the same boat.

I searched desperately for something similar to reach out to in Armidale, a group, an event, an online community, and kept coming up short. I had to ask myself, ‘Why?’.

Regional and rural Australia undoubtedly had a very real need for a space for female business owners, in particular, to connect, forge relationships and brainstorm ideas. I didn’t dwell on the question long, instead deciding to create that space myself – FOUND, a creative community for regional women.

FOUND’s reason for being is to connect, educate and celebrate businesswomen in regional, rural and remote Australia. We do this by hosting monthly educational workshops and inspiring conversations with remarkable women from across the country, supported by follow-up Zoom sessions and a private Instagram group. While it will begin as a New England-based project, future plans include branching out to other areas, online sessions and a podcast.

Our first event – a full-day workshop on how small business owners can ‘hack their own PR’ with Odette Barry from Odette & Co was, I’m so very happy to say, a huge success. The women in that room were driven, creative, clever and eager to learn, to connect and forge a new community.

In that moment I no longer felt lost in my career, I’d found what I was looking for – and I know other women in that room did too. Conversations flowed, ideas were triggered and friendships formed.

And the best part? It was only the beginning.

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A creative community for regional women. To attend an event and join this thriving community, follow FOUND on Instagram.

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