The owners behind handsome new Berrima Vault House are hoping Australians will embrace the private club membership model as much as people do overseas – à la London-born Soho House.

Covid’s shake-up of work culture and regional travel will surely also help boost its appeal.

Berrima Vault House is a private members club that recently opened in the beautiful historical Southern Highlands town of Berrima, an hour and 40 minutes drive south-west of Sydney, in Gundangara country. It’s housed in the converted Taylor’s Crown Inn, which was built by convicts in 1844, as well as the original prison holding cells below.

The cells were used to hold prisoners waiting for hearings at the courthouse opposite, while guards killed time drinking at the inn. Now members (and guests) can work, eat, drink and mingle in the transformed space. The gaol cells have been turned into private dining rooms, meeting spaces and a speak-easy style cocktail bar, and a lot of the original features – such as cell bars, a fireplace, low ceilings and sandstone walls – have been retained.

“[Berrima Vault House] is like London’s Soho House and Noir – where basically our home is your home; our lounge is your lounge,” says general manager Jason Cooley, a former area general manager for QT Hotels. “… Members can work alone, come here to chat and collaborate and cross-pollinate ideas. Hence why we have bulletproof wi-fi. We worked with Telstra because the area’s wi-fi isn’t great.”

Wi-fi security and speed is a big selling point, Vault House director Oliver Peagam confirms. He’s a Southern Highlands local and says having members conduct business without stress or interruptions is important, and he hopes the club redefines not only the Southern Highland’s staid reputation for scones and boiled lollies, but how people can work – and where.

Membership costs $2400 a year and each applicant goes through an approval process. While they won’t share their members list, Peagam says it’s a mix of high net worth individuals, old-school money and creatives. The opportunity to interact with those people and potentially do business with them – and to do it outside of the hubbub of the city, but not too far from it – is another of the club’s selling points.

“Covid has impacted everything – how we turn up at work, but also how we interact socially. I left the city to live in the country and I live locally, not far from Sydney. But I still want to interact with a like-minded crew. We definitely think there’s a gap – where people are looking for spaces to work in the day, to be able to have some cocktails in the evening and then to go to events,” says Peagam.

Those events range from drinks and DJs in the garden to dinners and cultural activities. The people behind Vault House – which includes CEO Si Philby (founder of creative consultants Background Creative Counsel), Dan Flower (former global creative director of Soho House) and Stuart Holt (CEO of UK architecture and design company Javelin Block) – want to create the right ambiance and atmosphere, so they’ve brought in Ali Hillman from Friday Trampoline to curate the arts program and Playlister to provide the soundtrack.

Paul Thomas, general manager of modelling agency Chic Management, says he’s enjoying his membership so far. “With us exploring our country’s backyard now [because of Covid], it’s great to have a home-away-from-home in beautiful, picturesque Berrima whenever I need it. Even from my first visit I bumped into so many people I knew, and it offers networking, events and always [delivers] a good night.”

You don’t need to be a member to visit Vault House. On street level, Taylor’s Inn Cafe serves an all-day menu (including an excellent bacon butty). Executive chef Tommy Prosser is behind the club’s food, and lists on his resume three-Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant Waterside Inn, founded by the brothers Michel and Albert Roux in Berkshire, England. He serves British-style food – think roasts with the trimmings, ploughman’s lunches, pies and mash.

The top floor has been renovated into a well-appointed three-bedroom stay with a kitchen. Also open to non-members, it’s a grand spot to explore Berrima’s well-preserved Georgian village and the greater Southern Highlands area.

Membership is $2400 a year.

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