The Leader Building is about to turn a new page, two years after its final chapter as the home of The Northern Daily Leader. CAROLYN MILLET talks with those connected to its past, present and future.
This week marks two years since the lights were turned out on the last shift at the historic The Northern Daily Leader building, which housed that publication, The Tamworth Times, The Land, Domain and Fairfax Rural Events.
And next weekend, it will begin its new life when PRDnationwide Tamworth takes up the first tenancy in the resized and revamped building.
With this next phase imminent, several ex-NDL staff recently toured through “the old girl”, as many fondly call it, during a staff reunion that’s hoped to be the first of many.
Being able to return to the old stomping grounds was a big drawcard during the October long weekend reunion.
But, of course a workplace is nothing without its people, as long-serving ex-staffer Toni Hooper says.
The organiser of the reunion, she says the idea came after a Facebook page for current and former employees became a popular forum for reflecting on old times and good times.
Toni worked at the Leader for about 10 years, first in classifieds then in advertising sales, then back in classies as supervisor.
That streak was interrupted, Toni admits, by six months in real estate admin and sales – but she was lured back.
“I did the normal thing that people do at the Leader: left and then came back,” Toni says.
“It’s like a big old family. You leave and you think the grass greener is on the other side and you realise it’s not.”
That word comes up a lot in former staffers’ reflections.
“It was just like a family – even though we were there to do our job and we all did, and without supervision most of the time, we just always related to each other,” she says.
“I still have firm friendships with two of the girls in particular – we talk on weekly basis – and I’m in contact with another six to eight regularly.”
Michele Tibbles is the longest-serving current staff member in the new Bourke St premises – although some of the press gents – Craig Jenner and Christopher “Paul” Latham – eclipse even her 26 years.
She spent the majority of her career in accounts, and is now the New England classifieds and administration manager.
Michele says some of her favourite memories are outings with the social club: “We went to some amazing different places and had a wonderful time.”
“It’s like family holiday that you go on and have fond memories of that time,” she says.
“When you see them, like at the reunion, you click straight back into ‘I just saw you yesterday’ mode …
“It was like a big family reunion.”
Being still with the staff, she is a rare link between the Leader’s past and present.
She says constant developments in the industry – changing workforce structures, and new technology in editorial, advertising and production, for example – keep her job interesting and challenging.
“Nothing ever stays the same here; we’re developing, moving forward with technology … but still trying to honour and stay true to the community newspaper.”
She says the reunion was “lovely” and she’s pleased to see the building being “brought back ... to its true form” and respect shown for its past.
“I worked for 23 years in that building, so it’s nice to see it be brought back into its original look … the atmosphere was amazing, and we’ve had a lot of laughs,” she says.
Real estate agent and property developer Mark Sleiman says he was happy to have the former staffers through the building-in-progress.
“Some of them spent a substantial part of their lives in that building and it shares a lot of memories for them.”
He says the whole redevelopment should be finished by the end of the year, but the next milestone will be him and his PRDnationwide colleagues moving in next weekend.
“You’ll also start seeing The Press bar opening in the next few weeks, which is exciting,” he says.
More tenanted areas will follow – but the pièce de résistance, he says, is the new top floor.
“That top space is at lock-up [and] is actually now the highest commercial space in Tamworth,” Mark says.
“You can look all the way across town from that spot; it feels like the lookout is at eye level.”
He’s “heard quite a few” theories about what it will become, but nothing’s set in stone yet.
“We’ve had good inquiry on it, but we haven’t found the right business to operate out of it yet,” he says.
“It really lends itself to a mix of uses, but the first one that comes to mind is a really gorgeous upmarket restaurant: the views are sensational and there’s a big wraparound balcony; there’s floor-to-ceiling glass, so you have uninterrupted views.”
He says that, with its lofty position, it could be a great spot for function room; he has no doubt that would be a desirable venue for occasions such as 18th and 21st birthday functions, or wedding receptions.
One thing he knows for sure: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that top floor.”
“Once it’s leased, I’d be confident the person who takes that will never give it up, [because] there’s really no other space like it,” he says.
“If someone just wants a really, really amazing office, it doesn’t get any better than that, but I feel something like that should be open to the public.”
The Lionheart Property Development managing director says The Leader Building, as he’s branded it, is “not just an investment to us, it’s a piece of Tamworth’s history; it’s iconic”.
“If you worked in that building, you’ll feel content and happy with how it’s been renovated. I’m so glad this space has been taken care of.”
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