Mandy Weston — Co-founder of Town Square Spaces limited offers up her experience and advice for working with local authorities to create a vibrant coworking space unique to a community.
Coming from a two-decade corporate background in the service industry — In 2012 Mandy and business partner Gareth I Jones co-founded Welsh ICE, with the vision to fill a gap in the existing offers of business support.
Within five years they had created an approachable and nurturing community with over 100 coworking members and approximately 40 office suites; where entrepreneurs could pop in for a coffee and find everything they needed to know about running a business.
In 2017, the duo founded their next venture, Town Square Spaces. Now with 6 communities across the UK (and three new ones nearing completion), they are no strangers to working with local authorities. Pretty phenomenal stuff coming off the year 2020; when the world as we know changed everything we came to know as normal!
Innovating and Adapting to Change
Mandy is a firm believer in innovating and adapting to the needs of community members and the current times. In fact, Gareth and Mandy accelerated the final stages of their digital platform Startup Club (within two weeks of the first lockdown) to continue delivering content like Supper Clubs, one-to-one coaching and course training. The platform has seen over 2,500 users benefit from webinars, 8-week start-up club and 12-week accelerator.
They also launched a research programme called “Boot the Commute” to gauge the appetite of professionals commuting vs working closer to (or at) home. She says the ‘new normal’ has given people confidence to challenge their current situation and that many people are using their extra time to explore business and entrepreneurial resources.
Approximately 80% of their coworking spaces have come through tender and bidding. Mandy notes that each opportunity is very different in the way it is supported and funded. She says to always consider the appetite of the local authority. Do they want to generate new jobs and exports? There’s no one size fits all approach and it really depends on the building and the space. You can either be bidding for a showcase building or one that is sitting still and needs to be full. Her advice to those starting out includes:
- You need to understand what the council wants. You have to take a partnership approach and respect their regulations– they have tight lists of processes and procedures.
- Consider the opportunities that may come from beyond the initial relationship. Is there scope for ad-hoc projects and work with local authorities? It is up to you to extend the relationship outside the contract.
- Remember that every district is different—– some are digitally focused – while others consider environmental needs and well-being. You have to be flexible and innovative in your thinking.
- You cannot assume all tenders are on a website — most local authorities post it on their Twitter or websites.
- Do your research — it’s not just about the building. It’s about the community that needs to be developed. What is and isn’t there. You need to really understand what is going on in the community to establish their needs.
- Check out your competition. Is your space going to be different and if so how? Is it facilities vs effort to build that community? Never assume your building will fill. You have to do research and gauge the appetite.
- Educate people in the communities about coworking, collaboration and the benefits of a coworking support space.
- Make sure you choose your location wisely — consider good links to transport and other daily amenities — this will also have a greater effect on the local economy.
Mandy firmly believes that Startups and SME’s can hold us during this recession. The more we can collaborate, partner and support — the more we can nourish this sector and positively impact the economy. Imagine a world with a coworking community in every town!