“I know a lot of people are scared of failure, of looking like they’re failing. But you have to try things to figure out what you like and what you don’t like. You also need to try for a period of time. You need to put effort in, it takes time”.

– Sarah-Lee, 2024

Sarah Lee Parker is no stranger to bringing people together. “To tell you the truth, I’ve always been a community builder.” But this sense of connection wasn’t necessarily easy for Sarah Lee to find in her local neighbourhood. 


Community is an interesting thing. Previous communities were location-based, knowing your neighbours. I’m kind of neurospicy, so location was never a big driver for me… I’m living in the community I grew up in, but I never really found a sense of community there that was location-based. I knew people, but it never felt like ‘community.’”


Sarah Lee shared her view that “Community is having a common goal, a common aim.”


As a teenager, Sarah Lee found this sense of community through Swancon, an annual convention-style event in the City of Swan that brings together sci-fi & fantasy enthusiasts. “I used to help run Swancon every year. It’s now in its 50th year. I’ve been volunteering there for 25 years.” With programming running across 5 streams, the event attracts 250-300 people and includes a diverse range of speakers and panel sessions. For Sarah Lee, the magic of the event was never about the celebrities – It was the connections with peers. “I tend to focus on the people. A lot of people there are neurodiverse, neurospicy… We just talk, hang out and have conversations.”

Alice and Community Builder Ally

This event, and the community that surrounded it, grew to become a central part of Sarah Lee’s life. “Some of my best friends are from conventions. We’d get together and organise the conventions over dinner. ‘It was always making friends first, organising conventions second.’ There are all sorts of things I’ve tried that I never had before being part of that community.” Sarah Lee described how important the strong relationships were as a foundation for the community. “When things went wrong, people already knew each other, we had strong connections, so we just worked through it.”


As Sarah Lee’s working career unfolded parallel to her Swancon volunteering, she found herself in work contexts that dampened her spirit. “I was working for Services Australia… I was working for Robodebt. As an empathic person, that was very hard. I later ended up in a very toxic department…

Sarah Lee knew that things needed to shift. She had always had a strong entrepreneurial spirit, having run several side-hustle/hobby businesses over the years, selling Tupperware, nail products and her own business idea Kitwardrobes. She believed that pursuing an entrepreneurial pathway would be a way of taking her work experiences into her own hands.


I’ve always wanted to run my own business. I’m super organised. And I don’t want to work for anyone else!” she laughed. “Old models of business didn’t work for me.”


With a background in communications and technology, Sarah Lee decided to pursue a path as a ‘Social Media Maven,’ establishing her own business as a content creator and social media coach. This was a pursuit Sarah Lee could really sink her teeth into, and she decided to “get serious” and work hard developing herself, building a portfolio of clients and growing her business.


A lot of things in Sarah Lee’s life felt like they were coming together. But the shadow side of working for herself in a social media business was that all of her connections with people were in the digital realm. Sarah Lee sensed that something was missing. 


I wanted to get back into the real world a bit more… I wanted to talk to people in-person, not through a zoom window.”


At a community meeting at Brockman House, Sarah Lee met local dance teacher Miriam, and through Miriam, Sarah Lee met Community Builder Ally. With a shared passion for community connection, the two began to explore possibilities together. “Thanks to Ally, I am getting offline more, back into the ‘real world.’”


In this new season of her life, Sarah Lee knew that she wanted to connect with “heart-centred, soul-driven entrepreneurs.” With a little encouragement and assistance from Ally, Sarah Lee decided to start up a ‘Small Biz & Side Hustle’ group, to bring together people who shared her entrepreneurial spirit.


I ran 6 months of coffee meets. I wanted to provide more space for women entrepreneurs to talk about how hard it is.”


After this trial period, Sarah Lee knew it was time to take stock and reflect. “It didn’t take off, but that’s ok – I met some new people, and it taught me some things.” She described her healthy mindset of “failing forward.”


I know a lot of people are scared of failure, of looking like they’re failing. But you have to try things to figure out what you like and what you don’t like. You also need to try for a period of time. You need to put effort in, it takes time. The start is always hard, it’s nerve-wracking! But you learn what you like and what you don’t. And you just keep trying again… We’re only here once, so may as well enjoy the process!”


Ideas continue to bubble away in Sarah Lee’s mind for where she might take her community pursuits into the future. “I’m thinking about transitioning from the coffee meets to running small biz social workshops… I started to go to trainings locally to see what was available. But I think they are missing the mark.” Sarah Lee described the potential she sees in how small business owners can develop supportive relationships in which they help each other with the practicalities and personal challenges of their working lives. To Sarah Lee, ‘business’ and ‘community’ don’t have to be separate – they can be interwoven in ways that enable people to follow their passions, make a living free from unhealthy work environments, within networks of supportive relationships.


We’re all trying to find new spaces where it’s comfortable for us to be ourselves. We’re all still finding our way….I want to build a life that I’m happy to be in.”

With deep and heartfelt thanks to Sarah-Lee for sharing her story with us