Coworking to build community, Claire Carpenter

WEDNESDAY was an auspicious day for people in my line of work.

It was the first European Coworking Day – here – and it couldn’t have come at a more important time.

Coworking hubs have – perhaps surprisingly – struggled during the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Some found they could no longer keep paying the rent – despite the sterling efforts of many landlords – while others have been affected by an increasing shift towards home working.

The Melting Post – here, which I founded 14 years ago – was among the first coworking hubs in Europe, and arguably the first in Scotland.

For those not entirely sure what a coworking hub is, it perhaps helps to be clear what it is not: it’s not just a corner of a shared office or room. You can work in a cafe, after all.

It is much more than a shared space. It’s about nurturing a community, creating an environment that encourages contact, stimulates collaboration and provides mutual support – whilst people are simply getting on with their jobs.

You could say it is the very embodiment of successful placemaking.

You could also perhaps describe The Melting Pot as a 14 year-long live experiment in formal and informal spaces, plus formal and informal get-togethers, training sessions and inter-member presentations.

We have since moved from our original home on Edinburgh’s Rose Street, to attractive premises at the back of the capital’s Waverley rail station. Sadly, there had come a point when it was no longer financially viable to remain in Rose Street.

For us, the pandemic produced significant economic pressures; despite receiving government funding (‘furlough’ funding) and dipping into our reserves, we eventually had to look elsewhere for new premises. We fortunately struck gold, with our current base.

Our contribution towards the European Coworking Day has been to ramp up our own research, to get a full picture of where we are at in Scotland. We have just completed a project mapping coworking in Scotland, showing where to find one’s nearest hub.

The Melting Pot has around 400 members, and we offer a huge amount of flexibility in how our different work and meeting spaces can be hired. 

On the one hand, you can be an individual who simply wants a desk for half a day. On the other, you can be a large organisation with a nationwide team, and a handful of staff based in and around Edinburgh, but often out and about. 

We cater to a huge variety of needs.

The interior design and resources available within a coworking hub are important – but not the sole reason for a hub being a success or not. Excellent wi-fi, as you can imagine, is essential. Location, convenience and that elusive ‘privacy-ambience balance’ are also key. 

Coworking is the ‘cream on top of the coffee’. It knows what people really need, beyond a desk to work at; it’s the ‘sticky human stuff’. It is far more complex and nuanced than you might initially think.

I believe we had, at Rose Street, a huge amount of authenticity (our plants were never plastic – ha!); not least authenticity of spirit, in resourcing and supporting our clients in their work. 

Many of our clients there were not-for-profit ‘social good’ organisations and individuals; and they immediately saw the benefits of interaction. Thankfully, most have been able to follow us to our new premises. And since opening there in 2021, we’ve tripled our membership.

The benefits for a town that has its own co-working hub should be obvious: workers are not necessarily having to get in their car, and they are likely to spend locally – even if it’s just for lunch.

The current interest in ’20-minute neighbourhoods’ should have coworking at its heart.

We know how to build and grow coworking hubs – in Scotland and elsewhere. We know how hard it can be to survive a lockdown. And we know, from 14 years of delivery, just how much coworking hubs can do for people: the benefits they experience in wellbeing, motivation and collaboration.

Claire Carpenter is founder and now executive director (social innovation) at The Melting Pot in Edinburgh

Please note: Claire is scheduled to be a guest interviewee as part of an upcoming series of weekly webinars (for members only): at midday on July 19. A year’s worth of weekly webinars, for £12 a year, here.

Picture credit: Place Design Scotland

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