Shared workspace is becoming more necessary as coworking grows in popularity – in 2009, it accounted for 5% of office lettings. In the following five years, this rose to 20%.
It is estimated that around half of all startups fail. This can be due to gaps in experience, skills and work capacity, or a lack of access to mentoring and advice. Business in all its forms is part of an ecosystem – in order to succeed and grow, a company needs a network of partners. Shared workspace can provide just the right environment to exchange ideas with those in related sectors. And their offer can often go beyond this in providing seminars, training courses and invaluable access to business leaders.
With demand and cost increasing, innovative solutions are needed to make space for shared workspace. Camden Collective has renovated the abandoned National Temperance Hospital to create a coworking hub with free hot desking and subsidised offices. Startups are able to operate in a prime creative industry cluster in London amongst other businesses, sharing their learning and skills. This is something rental prices would usually prohibit.
The National Temperance Hospital is leased as ‘meanwhile use’ before its demolition to make way for HS2. There are many similar vacant buildings throughout London – rather than sitting empty waiting for the wrecking ball to arrive, these properties could be put to ‘meanwhile use’ as shared workspaces.
Meanwhile use is regeneration for innovation. A property gets a breath of new life, creating opportunities for small businesses, boosting the skills of individuals and enhancing the business environment for the local area. Town planners should seize the opportunity to decrease vacant buildings and inject vibrancy and an economic boost.
In 2015, 608,100 startups were created in the UK. If each were able to employ just one person by the end of their first year, the benefit to the local economy would be huge.
As demand for commercial space has increased, so has its cost. This has been worsened by a Government policy to make it easier for developers to convert office space to housing, and it’s hit shared and open workspaces particularly hard. The policy was intended to help solve the housing crisis, but in practice it enables landlords to turf out businesses and make way for lucrative residential developments.
Local Authorities should be working to secure exemptions from Permitted Development Rights for shared workspace. Using Section 106 agreements, they can engage with developers to accommodate shared working.
Additionally, charitable business rate relief should be extended to open workspace providers. Businesses in London already face a rise in business rates this year, and this would help to mitigate the impact the new rates will have in driving startups away from regenerated areas.
Town planners must remembers that self-employment does not mean doing business alone. Entrepreneurs could make a massive contribution to the local economy if the right infrastructure and support is available.
Discussions about access to support, advice and training for the self-employed are very far away from being a homogenous group.
Read the full version in ‘Working it Out’.