New Brighton Good Life Guide: Reuben Woods

Image of male in yellow beanie infant of a painted wall.

Meet Reuben Woods, an arts writer, curator and the creative director of 'Watch This Space', an urban arts trust dedicated to exploring, documenting and celebrating graffiti and street art in Ōtautahi and wider Aotearoa.

He wrote his PhD thesis on the performances of graffiti, street art and independent public art at the University of Canterbury, a challenge that strengthened his bonds with the city and, in some ways, with New Brighton, a village that has embraced colour and creativity.

I’m a wanderer, either on foot or by pedal, but I like to do it at my own pace and have the ability to change direction or follow my nose down an unfamiliar path. I feel like even after living, working and playing in New Brighton, I can still find places that surprise me, either because I haven’t explored them for a while or because they have changed. The advantage of my relationship with New Brighton is that almost every corner has a memory from some stage of my life, so I like to go slow and reconnect. I was born down the road in North New Brighton and went to North New Brighton Primary School (now Rāwhiti Primary, which my daughter attends) before I went to Shirley Boys High School, which fittingly for me, is now located in North New Brighton! I flatted in Bexley with my best friends in my twenties, in a house and on a street that has been washed away. I now live just by QEII, thankful to be surrounded by the streets and places that have meant so much to me my whole life. New Brighton has been a massive part of my entire life, and the backdrop to the majority of it! From the busy mall in the 1980s to working at the PostShop/Kiwibank for many years (I still get recognised for this!) more recently, I feel like I have really seen so many versions of this amazing part of the world! I remember hectic nights out and relaxed recoveries at the beach. I’ve always felt at home in New Brighton, with all of its perfect imperfections, its sense of community and its long story that has unfolded over so many years.

Dark and light blue basketball court next to the beach in Christchurch New Zealand.

Hit The Mall

I enjoy walking around the mall, seeing what new art has bloomed and flourished. I have a hit list of spots that I always check out and return to as they are often refreshed. From the vibrant basketball court painted by Dr Suits (Nath Ingram) south of the pier, to the Fiksate crew’s Welcome to Ōrua Paeroa, a community mural at the west entrance to the village, art permeates so much of New Brighton, I like to simply wander, explore and get a closer look.

Wall of books inside a bookstore with fairy lights.

Paper Plus for the win

72 Brighton Mall, New Brighton, Christchurch 8061

I might be a bit biased being that I was on the other side of the counter for a while, but the Paper Plus is such a key part of the community and I am pleased that I can get those important things done, especially the printing jobs that I know Blair, the owner, must get sick of doing for me! The store has been an enduring hub for so many people in the community for so long, helping out with the annoying jobs that we can’t avoid.

A little girl in pink top swinging on the yellow swings at the beachside playground.

New Brighton by Bike

While I’m more of an urban type, I do love jumping on my bike and just exploring. The freedom to be distracted and follow my inquisitive eye can become an adventure. So, while it might not satisfy an adrenaline junkie, I appreciate that there is so much character around New Brighton, from beloved homes to the natural environment, and you can head north, south, east (I guess not too far east!) or west to find it. I also have to acknowledge that for my six-year-old daughter, the new playground on the foreshore is packed with adventure as well - as a giant sea-faring ship should be!  

Interior image of Switch roasters with 3 hanging down pendant lights.

Switch it up

7/78 Brighton Mall, New Brighton, Christchurch 8061

I remember when Switch was a tiny roastery in the early days, just making great coffee (I would often pop over for a 3pm ristretto pick-me-up to get me through the last remnants of the working day), and to have witnessed its growth and expansion is fantastic. When I can, I like to get away from my home office, and when I do, Switch is a go to, with a long black to get me going as I switch between work and people watching. Saturdays also have a nice vibe and have become my other meeting go-to. It’s such a perfect location. For food hits, it’s a Spicy Veg burger from the Burger Joint, and, as a vegetarian, Chanakya has so many good options, like the Dahi Papadi, Dal Makhani or Eggplant Salan.

Blue and purple street art of a butterfly on a big wall.

Get inspired with a self guided street art tour

There are dozens of murals and pieces of graffiti and street art throughout the village - from the massive DTR crew seaside mural to Cinzah’s amazing moth opposite the Unichem - art can be found everywhere. Creative inspiration is never hard to find! I also really like the colourful collage paste-ups by Dr Suits and Order 55’s striking portrait mural on Shaw Avenue. I even find inspiration where there is no art. I can always reach out to Gavin at the New Brighton Outdoor Art Foundation and see if he can make some magic happen! One of the great things about New Brighton’s street art is that so much is made by local (or near enough) artists, giving it a sense of authenticity.

A large group of people walking at the seaside market.

Seaside Saturdays

The Seaside Market on Saturdays is always an excellent example of community gathering.  The vibrant sights, the sound of live music and the smell of fresh food are what communities create. Community is about activity and gathering. Jeremy Sauzier’s sunset-toned mural is another great example of community - the artist literally captured the shadows of locals on the wall.  It is a brilliant idea and fun to see who you can recognise! 

A big concert library with massive glass windows overlooking the beach.

What's good for mind and body

Some chill time at the library or a stroll along the pier are pretty standard activities for us, but they are beloved for a reason. They are a reminder of the benefits of slowing down and breathing in the ocean air and admiring the natural beauty. The library is an awesome community space, I’d say one of the most picturesque in Aotearoa! The settings are ideal to reflect and take stock. Following that, a walk along the beach is always a good tonic for the soul. It can be easy to overlook, so I constantly remind myself how lucky we are to live so close to the beach, to have sand and sea air as part of our DNA.

People with their dogs at a sandy domain with tall trees around.

Love of the Domain

A meander through Rāwhiti Domain is also appealing, and brings back memories of school cross country runs as a child, birthday parties and games of touch with mates. There is a growing number of community resources and spaces to enjoy, whether you have two legs or four (our pup loves the dog park!)

Big blue twisting hydroslide with lots of bushes around the bottom.

Tales of the hydroslide

I also have a soft spot for Taiora, which is part of the longer lineage of QEII, a massive part of the childhood of anyone who grew up in this area. I used to spend whole weekends there as a kid, so to know new generations have a fantastic recreation space at their fingertips is brilliant - a whole new raft of hydroslide stories to enjoy! It is always a friendly environment and the way it recognises the histories of the area is really impressive. He Puna Taimoana Hot Pools - how can you not mention this amazing addition. The pools were a must do for the visiting artists from the Flare Street Art Festival and is a truly beautiful setting, so relaxing and reinvigorating.

Looking through the window at Stitch Mat with a massive black and yellow logo on the window.

Crafting Community

It was sad to see the Old School creative site vacated (but new homes are always exciting!), but it’s good to see that the Stitch-O-Mat has found a new home in charming Surfside Mall. I love the baggage of craft; it is about time, work, warmth and the act of creating all tied together with a celebration of community. So to have a group who help people connect with these qualities and provide practical skills, is amazing!