Coventry. It may not be a name you automatically associate with glamour and culture. No Manchester or Brighton, automatically buzzing up in the mind’s eye with images of trendy bars and alternative art scenes.
In fact, the first thing many people associate Coventry with is bombs – after Hitler singled out the city for some of the worst bombing raids of the Second World War. The ruins of its medieval cathedral still stand in the city centre as testament to its darkest hour. But around those ruins, Coventry is changing at an unheard-of rate.
Named UK City of Culture 2021, Coventry is now in a frenzy. Awash with entrepreneurial energy, there are new bars, shops and restaurants springing up across the city. And not only that: to serve a growing self-employed community, it now has its first major co-working space.
Launched in April this year, The Wheelhouse is based in Coventry’s historic city hall. It’s the second branch of The Wheelhouse co-working space following on from the one in Oxford.
As the space’s community and sales executive Annabel Johnson explained: “We saw there was a gap in the market. Coventry’s a city on the rise – it’s even going to be the UK’s city of culture – and there just wasn’t anything here for freelancers.”
So the Wheelhouse team met Coventry City Council and started a partnership to bring co-working to Coventry.
The result? The Wheelhouse is a bright, airy space occupying one wing of the Tudor- style council building. It consists of a large, open hotdesk space, several spacious meeting rooms, a compact but well-stocked kitchen and a relaxed casual working space. In short, the ideal place to bring Coventry’s growing freelancer population together.
Of course, The Wheelhouse is no corporate hipster hub. There aren’t craft beers and nitro-brew coffee flowing endlessly. There’s no café stocked with a bottomless supply of raw balls and vegan muffins. But it’s not trying to be that – and that’s probably not what Coventry needs. What it has even at this stage though, is community. And that’s much more important.
Johnson added: “We’re big on community and low on cost – we want everyone to feel included.”
So, to build up that sense of community and bring their members together, they hold a range of events throughout the week.
“We do ‘Lunch and Learns’, where we get a member to talk about a project or something else they’re doing. And we always get a local takeaway in for it, to help promote local business.
“We’ve also got Wheelhouse Workshops, where people can practise a pitch, get feedback from other co-workers, or if they have any kind of work problem, they can put it to the group for advice.”
The sense of community is almost palpable when you visit. Because the space is in its early days, it hasn’t got close to a full complement of members yet. So when I came, I found its core group of eight members gathered in free-flowing, friendly conversation at one end of the airy hotdesk space. It felt as if they’d known each other for years, not months.
As Johnson said: “It’s not the kind of place where people just come in and put their heads down. They’re there as part of a community, re-creating that office camaraderie. Because I really believe part of being mentally healthy is being part of a community and conversing with people.”
It’s not just about the community though, and the Wheelhouse team are working hard to build up a relaxing environment, as well as hightech, reliable facilities for their members.
There’s still some way to go, though – and a few rough edges to smooth out – but what can you expect a couple of months into the life of Coventry’s first co-working space? And its dedicated team have more than enough passion, determination and genuine enthusiasm to turn it into a thriving centre for Coventry’s freelance future.
And what about the cost? Well, as you might hope from the first co-working space in the area, the barrier to entry is very low. Prices start at £49 plus VAT for 25 hours of access a month. There’s also a very reasonable £79 plus VAT option for 50 hours a month. Prices then go up to £179 plus VAT for a dedicated desk. There’s also a charity rate of just £159 per month for dedicated desk.
That’s perhaps the other most important thing about The Wheelhouse: its commitment to charity and ethics. With its low prices, its charity rates and its prioritisation of community – not to mention its commitment to local business – The Wheelhouse is a co-working space that’s overtly ethical.
And right now, that’s probably what the UK’s up and coming city of culture needs. Not a hipster hub, but a down-to-earth centre committed to values and community. This hard-working, ethical co-working space is guaranteed to go far.