The beauty of freelancing is that you choose where to run your business from. And as the number of freelancers is on the rise, so too is the number of innovative new co-working spaces, or ‘workhubs’, offering flexible hot desks and various services to help the self-employed run their businesses.
Co-working spaces provide an environment to network and collaborate at a fraction of the cost of renting permanent office space. They’re becoming increasingly diverse in location, style and services, with some offering business mentoring, while others focus on event spaces. Leeds-based Duke Studios includes a vinyl press, while members at Manchester’s The Hive can receive a full virtual office service, including a secretary.
The soaring popularity of co-working spaces is good news for everyone. They give the self-employed the freedom to get on with running their businesses as and when they need to, and there’s no doubt that they’re places where big ideas happen.
As IPSE-QA Freelancer of the Year 2016 Emmeline Pidgen mentions: “Freelancing can be lonely. We don’t have office gossip, weekly meetings or group brainstorming sessions – so we need to break out of the studio, network, collaborate and connect with other freelancers. We’re all lone wolves here, but sometimes it’s good to run with the pack.”
This hasn’t gone unnoticed by policy makers, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan pledging more support for workspaces going forward. IPSE thinks the Government should go further by reducing or eliminating business rates for workspaces, allowing more to pop up across the UK, including in rural areas. Ultimately, this would help freelancers grow their businesses and maximise their contribution to the economy.
The notion that a workhub is simply a place to rent a desk is outdated. We took a look at some of the most innovative spaces operating around the UK.
Social Enterprise Hub, Luton – accessibility
Bedfordshire’s Disability Resource Centre is leading the way in making co-working accessible for everybody with its pioneering workspace aimed specifically at those with physical disabilities. It offers a whole range of services, including business advisers who can provide support and guidance on launching and expanding a business.
“This new development reaches the most vulnerable communities,” says Councillor Ken Matthews, Central Bedfordshire’s portfolio holder for economic growth, skill and regeneration. “Self-employment will continue to be a real option for people who have the skills to start their own business and this facility offers the perfect springboard for them to harness their skills and get the advice they need.”
As far as we’re aware, this is only workspace of its kind in the UK – but it’s hopefully the first of many.
Officreche, Brighton – childcare
This is the perfect solution for Brighton-based freelancers with young children. This co-working spaces boasts full childcare facilities with flexibility taking top priority, so running a business can be even more flexible. Officreche caters for children aged 0–5 years old, including provision of fresh snacks, wipes and suntan lotion, and bookings can be made from two hours in length.
Members can use the co-working space upstairs in the knowledge that their children are in safe hands, and there’s an online booking and payment system to make it quick and simple. It’s particularly good for new mothers who want to ease themselves back into the world of work gradually.
Elizabeth Moody-Stuart worked freelance before she had her first child and after she returned from her (non-existent) maternity leave she began looking for flexible childcare to fit around her work. She says: “I couldn’t believe the limited nature of flexible childcare on offer. You might get an extra ad hoc afternoon if you knew the nursery well but you needed to be already paying them a steady income to secure the place for your child. This type of commitment just isn’t feasible for many freelancers.”
Elizabeth’s main reasons for setting up the business were to gain a better work-life balance for her growing family and because “our society needs a different way of providing childcare because more and more people are working flexibly."
TechHub Swansea (and various locations) – connectivity
South Wales’ booming freelance culture gave rise to TechHub Swansea, a unique environment for tech start-ups and one of several sister workhubs across Europe. As the tech sector becomes more important than ever before, this workhub aims to bring together like-minded entrepreneurs to share ideas and learn from each other. It hosts regular events for freelancers too; they’re scattered around the country and focus on themes as diverse as mindfulness, digital marketing and research – plus regular social meet-ups for members.
Roland White is nutrition and lifestyle consultant at Ginger Guru, a health advice company. He swears by TechHub for “the choice of how and where you work, and the buzz of quiet activity – it keeps you going all day. When you want a break there’s plenty going on inside and outside the building. People are always willing to give advice and help and there’s plenty of opportunity to have an after work beer.”
The bottom line
Workspaces like these are changing how freelancers run their businesses in a big way. They’re facilitating brand new start-ups and fostering innovation. There’s been good progress so far in getting workspaces on legislators’ radar, but there’s more to be done. Freelancers contribute £109 billion to the UK economy and to make this figure even higher, we need a progressive new approach to boost the growth of workspaces. The Government would do well to remember that.
Words by Mark Williams, IPSE Press & PR Officer