27 Apr, 2020

Robyn Cook: people, passion and random stuff

When you sit down to have a yarn with Robyn Cook, there's one thing for certain - you're going to hear some colourful stories.

 

If you’ve been following Robyn’s hilarious Facebook live “Random shit in my house” videos during lockdown, you’ll know she has a keen interest in the wild and weird things that people have in their homes.

The storyteller/interviewer, avid gardener and passionate connector of people is best known for her YouTube video series, Stories from the Red Couch where she has meaningful conversations with Sunshine Coast locals doing interesting things.

Over two years and 110 videos, Stories from the Red Couch has enabled local entrepreneurs, creatives and foodies to share their passions, innovations and motivations.

And since April 8, Robyn has been hosting hilarious daily Facebook live sessions featuring what she calls “random shit”. It seems that just about everyone has something unusual stored away in their home. Robyn is inviting people wherever they are to share their random items in a video chat that is growing quite a following.

From collectables, to art, vintage travel typewriters and framed concert tickets from the Robyn and her guest for the make light of lockdown with their uplifting and quirky shares.

Turns out Robyn has always been a bit of a storyteller. Whether it is convincing people to support her self-published cookbook, teaching kids about gardening through the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation or speaking with guests on the red couch, Robyn has an innate ability to tell a compelling story that resonates.

The power of storytelling

In a quintessential Sunshine Coast setting on Robyn’s verandah studio at Palmwoods, the long format allows Robyn to take her guests on a deep dive into their light bulb moments, successes and curious quirks.

Robyn first realised the power of storytelling in a business context when promoting a Holiday Lifestyle Cookbook co-authored with photographer partner, John. With two-year-old Lewis in tow, the keen caravanners were headed to Woodford Folk Festival when Robyn started searching for a camping cookbook to inspire camp-based meals for their young child.

There was no such cookbook on the market so the resourceful pair and keen cooks set up in a caravan park alongside the Maroochy River and wrote it themselves. Twelve months later, thousands of copies of their self-published cookbook were ready to distribute. With no publisher and no online sales (this was the year 2000), Robyn realised she needed a plan for getting the book into the hands of enthusiastic cooks, setting her sights on the Today Show.

After three days of constantly calling the show’s producer, he answered and Robyn launched into her spiel. He was nonchalant. They didn’t really “do” cookbooks. Robyn changed tack.

“I said actually this story is not about the book. The story is about me, a mum with a child and a desire to create something that hadn’t been done before. Suddenly he was interested. And he asked “what is your last name?” When I said “Cook”, he thought that was fabulous and I was given a spot.”

“Telling my story in an authentic way not only got me a spot on the Today Show but resonated with the audience enough that people wanted to by the book. That was a big learning that I’ve been able to apply to everything I have done since.”

The evolution of Stories from the Red Couch

Robyn’s journey to Red Couch host is a story in itself. An aspiring filmmaker, one of Robyn’s sons, Matt, decided he wanted to do a film directing workshop at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in Sydney. Robyn and John supported thirteen-year-old Matt’s dream - provided he could find a way to fund course fees.

After exploring several options, Robyn remembered the stash of cookbooks gathering dust in the shed.

“I said, ‘we have thousands of cookbooks. If you sold them at $2 each you could sell 1000 and make $2000’. So, Matt set up a stand at the Hinterland Harvest Market and got up at 4.30am every Saturday for 12 months, rain, hail or shine, to sell the books.”

It became obvious early on that Matt needed to do more than simply stand at his stall to get people interested.

“We convinced Matt that he needed to share his story and explain to people why he was selling the books. So, we designed a poster saying that he was a young, award-winning filmmaker with a dream to get to AFTRS and wanted to pay his way,” Robyn said.

“People then saw him as a teenager having a go, they were giving him $10 and only taking one book, or buying a whole box. It was amazing! It wasn’t about the book, it was about the story and that was a powerful message.”

Matt made it to AFTRS and purchased a livestreaming camera while in Sydney. Returning home, he sought a project to put his new skills and equipment to use. Matt wasn’t keen on being in front of the camera, so Robyn, who had just finished up as a coordinator with the Kitchen Garden Foundation, and wasn’t at all camera shy, volunteered.

Sharing stories in a meaningful way

Initially, the videos explored stuff - china tea sets, plates and vintage household items - but the idea evolved as Robyn saw an opportunity for more people like herself to tell their story.She wondered how many women there were like her across the Sunshine Coast, around the same age, with small businesses and struggling to get cut-through in a saturated digital market.

“I kept wondering how ordinary people could get their voices heard. And I thought, that’s who I want to talk to, women over 50 who were changing careers or re-entering the workforce for whatever reason, with minimal capacity to have their stories shared in a meaningful way,” Robyn said enthusiastically.

“It was important to me to focus on people whose work gave something to others, with the point of the conversation to see the person behind their work, what shapes them as a person and their involvement in the community.”

The formula worked, although the format has evolved. Stories from the Red Couch is no longer livestreamed and Matt has moved on to bigger and better things, so now John is on his own behind the camera.

Memorable moments

With so many stories already shared, Robyn certainly has had some memorable moments with her guests.

“There was one with a farmer who has PTSD. She brought her assistance dog, a massive American Labrador named Rex. He sat still the whole time, just quietly, until I said his name and he was instantly alert, placing his head straight onto her lap. She said ‘he knows we are talking about him’. He hopped up and sat in between us and he was kind of clambering all over her and it was just the funniest thing.”

Anyone familiar with Stories from the Red Couch will recall Robyn’s cat, Lucy who is a fixture in the videos, usually comfortably curled up on the table in front of the red couch. In the early days, Robyn would bake a cake for her guest, with the cake becoming one of the many props used to theme the video. During one recording, Robyn’s guest Glenda, who had been quite nervous, was sharing something particularly meaningful when Lucy noticed the cake.

“Lucy got up and walked around and started licking the icing on the cake just as Glenda was telling me this thing that was really important. I just had to keep looking at Glenda and maintaining eye contact. But John, who as videoing, zoomed in and got this great footage of Lucy licking the icing. It was hilarious,” Robyn laughs.

Connecting to people and place

In a world where everything is instant and so much information is presented for fast consumption, Stories from the Red Couch is a refreshing long format interview, allowing Robyn to more deeply explore the person behind the business or creative endeavour.

It’s not surprising that people find it easy to relate to and share their stories with Robyn. She’s warm-hearted, kind, down-to-earth and genuinely interested in what other people have to say. As an active community volunteer and board member of the Old Ambo in Nambour, Robyn is passionate about our Sunshine Coast community and relishes her role as our unofficial storyteller.

“There’s so much warmth in the people here on the Sunshine Coast. Every person I have spoken to gives freely of themselves. Everyone has a level of generosity that contributes in ways that cannot always be measured. People are volunteering driven by passion and a desire to help rather than for personal gain,” she said.

“And there’s still so much to be done. Even if tomorrow, I didn’t have to earn money, I’d be just as involved in the community because that’s what makes me feel good about myself. Some people like to travel but I don’t want to go places. People are my ‘why?’ It’s connections to people and place that make me feel fabulous.”

If you’d like to chat with Robyn about random and intriguing items you have in your home, you can message her on Facebook www.facebook.com/robyn.cook.5817 or for a light-hearted lockdown laugh, check out Random Shit in my house live on Robyn’s Facebook page daily.

Or check out Stories from the Red Couch at www.storiesfromtheredcouch.com.au

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