It's more than a desk...
Sally Taylor shares her experience of co-working and explains why ‘it’s not just about the desk’.
The vision for co-working as a social enterprise in Bearwood is about creating community. Yes, there will be desks. There will be quiet space. There’ll most likely be a kitchen and free tea and coffee. We’ll definitely have wifi, obviously!
But what else?
Co-working is a growing movement that’s been around for yonks. And it’s different to simply renting office space. The essence of a successful co-working space is the hosting, the collaborative feel, the ethos behind it. It happens in people’s living rooms, in local coffee shops and in dedicated spaces designed purposefully to enable and encourage collaboration.
When I started working from home as a social impact consultant in October 2017, I thought I’d arrived. All those years of trying to convince bosses to let me work from home just a little bit more were behind me. I could see my family more, spend less time in traffic jams, have more quiet space than I had in the office or be as ambitious as managing to cook dinner before 8 o’clock at night (what an ambition for a working parent!).
But it wasn’t like that, not all the time anyway:
The first week was great. I was free, in my joggers, making a tasty lunch.
The second week I was really glad that I knew a couple of people locally who might be up for going for a lunchtime walk.
The third week, I booked my tour of Impact Hub Birmingham and signed up to their flexible co-working membership.
I needed people around me.
Of course I needed people around me! That’s where I get my energy. That’s how ideas are generated and developed! But I also wanted the quiet comforts of home sometimes.
The Impact Hub enabled me to connect with people - many of them working in similar areas, but not all.
There’s a lot of cross-fertilisation of ideas that happens at the Impact Hub between different business or social sectors, there are opportunities to network for business in a way that feels more organic than a networking ‘event’. And best of all, there’s the opportunity to make more friends and meet people who encourage you, who want to share what they are learning about how to make change, do business or inspire.
The reason the Bearwood Co-working space & creche was tried was because the folk at the #RadicalChildcare movement that was born out of Impact Hub Brum, were interested in trying some of the things I’d been thinking about. So, Bearwood resident and #RadicalChildcare founder Amy and I got talking. We thought imaginatively about funding possibilities. And we started collaborating. We were coworking.
Why was it different?
It’s not just the space. Yes the light flooding in and the well designed interior and the sofas and the big spacious desks are important and better than I have at home (or ever had in any workplace, actually). But the real difference - the difference between renting a desk or office and joining a co-working space - was the hosting, ethos, the atmosphere. It felt the same when I visited The Melting Pot in Edinburgh recently. There is the welcome when you come through the door (EVERY time), the people who offer to make you a cuppa, the pot-luck lunches where you can’t help but connect with people over food, the ‘Food for Thought’ programme with some inspiring people talking about what they do, why and how while you eat cake and ask questions or contribute to their ideas.
Why here in Bearwood?
Active hosting to create community by enabling and encouraging connections, is what leads to more socialisation, better understanding between people, and the potential for people to support each other and collaborate together. These things are important for wellbeing - as individuals and as communities. And research by local community groups has shown that more of this is needed.*
When we tried it earlier this year, the response was huge. We sold out in days. Providing high quality childcare alongside the space was key for 50% of our participants too. People reported the energy they got from just working alongside people. Many made new business and personal connections. Others had a space where they could collaborate well with colleagues in a space that felt happy and productive.
And that’s what we can create in Bearwood for the longer term. It’s not just about creating a viable social business that can sustain community action in a community hub, even though that’s an ultimate aim. It’s about the co-working space itself being an integral part of our communities’ development - one of a number of spaces within a hub where people can connect, collaborate and create in our place, Bearwood.
The Bearwood Community Hub CIC is a new venture. It’s a social enterprise set up by people who live in and love Bearwood. We hope to find a suitable location and be open within a year (by Autumn 2019). We are open to all in our communities who identify in any way as a Bearwood (or surrounding neighbourhoods) resident, worker or visitor. We are particularly focused on ensuring that people who are more vulnerable to social exclusion, isolation or simply not having a voice, are involved in co-creating the vision for the community hub. Please get in touch with Sally Taylor in the first instance if you’d like to contribute your passion, skills or knowledge - firstname.lastname@example.org
*We Are Bearwood will shortly be releasing research findings. Other groups we are in contact with, such as Bearwood Action for Refugees and Soho/Victoria Friends & Neighbours are constantly informing our work and community engagement plans by sharing their experience and knowledge.