I had the pleasure of chatting with the talented and superb woman, Nicola Moore, who provides support to startups and SMEs. Nicola joined the British Library’s Business and IP Centre and Haringey Council to develop a cross-sector pilot programme called Start-ups in London Libraries. Nicola had the benefit of living locally prior to launching the programme (she has lived in the borough for nearly ten years).
Being a resident and now business provider, Nicola has some insight into some of the needs and support that could be improved or created locally. “It was great to have some knowledge but even now three years later, there is still so much to learn about the incredible variety of businesses, creators, and needs within the borough,” says Nicola.
During our chat, a few things became obvious – passion for social justice, inclusion, and capacity building, are a few things that inspire Nicola to positively impact the organisations and communities she surrounds herself with.
She has been described as an intrapreneur or generalist, as she enjoys working on strategic business development and circular economy models to help improve already existing systems. And if that is not enough, she invests a lot of time working on social impact, social enterprises, and environmentally-minded businesses, which provides a relevant perspective to discuss the role of coworking spaces in the community.
Before jumping straight into the main topic, I was curious to find out what is the definition of coworking means to Nicola, amongst other questions.
What is coworking for you?
I don’t have a clear answer to be honest, as I have seen many different formats that are exciting. Coworking is so multifaceted, and I think it’s great that there are various models that seem to work. I love seeing people and businesses from different sectors coming together to share knowledge and collaborate.
There are many great examples of interesting solutions, connections, and innovations that come from cross industries working in the same space. I don’t think coworking should have one particular mould, but I know that can make it hard for those wanting to access space to know how to best navigate or find the right fit.
How important are coworking spaces for the communities?
I think it is really vital that those accessing a space have a positive and productive fit, otherwise it can be the make or break of a business or experience. As operators, it is also equally important to define what community means in regard to a space internally and externally and making sure that it is clearly communicated and commit to the role of cultivating, managing, and offering space. I think it helps for each operator to communicate the values that define their space when it comes to its internal community and understanding if it provides space or is contractually expected to provide social value within the local environment they operate.
I think, based on the idea of community, it is something that gets lost in translation for a lot of people especially those who want to locally access a workspace. So, it’s good to understand how tenants, operators, and potentially local authorities can be transparent in how they define community and social value. Especially as these definitions and relationships are developed, improved, and need to be sustained over time. Depending on the aims of space, I do think it is important that spaces and businesses do not simply remain within the building but find positive ways to be embedded locally.
What suggestions have you made since you have worked for a local authority?
One of the reasons I was interested in working for Haringey was to get involved in social, environmental and youth development projects. I think it is important to see how we can improve spaces and the built environment (like the concept of libraries) to provide connections for communities and cultivate entrepreneurial support and inclusive networks.
Support and advocacy for social entrepreneurs have been a big focus of mine for the last few years while developing the startup programme. Prior to and during the pandemic, I have seen amazing businesses creating positive social and environmental solutions. With a very close-up view of seeing how many were falling through the support gaps at the start of the pandemic, I developed a collaborative social impact programme with Defy Doom Business School via the Haringey Good Economy Recovery Fund which included over 30 local businesses. It has been inspiring to see how they have all actively supported each other and collaborated since we started on Zoom during the lockdown.
The pandemic highlighted the need to support the creative industries within the UK, which is crucial and I believe that there should be equal (and joined-up) support by the government to invest in social entrepreneurs and changemakers. I think it’s important for the sector to have affordable access to coworking spaces, as it is already a hugely collaborative sector by its operational nature.
Social enterprise provides a variety of benefits economically on a local and national scale which SEUK, the Young Foundation, and international organisations have highlighted during the pandemic. Community cohesion, social infrastructure, and capacity building are areas I have worked in which is where I think coworking and affordable workspaces can provide a range of innovative solutions as we look at hybrid and flexible working, and business models.
There is also currently a strong focus for young people to access employment and skills training, which is important, but due to the nature of the job market and innovations required within the labour force, I am currently supporting the development of local programmes for young people to get access and exposure to business and entrepreneurship. Ideally, as young people will be key problem solvers of many of the economic and environmental problems we and their generation face. I believe there should be more than just courses and work experience but by getting them engaged and connected with businesses and startups that are local to where they have grown up and being part of the growth of local businesses. This is where I think workspaces, tenants, and libraries have great potential to develop or expand support in various ways.
What is your ideal coworking space?
Personally, it would be a very localised model for my daily work combined with a flexible model to access sites across the city. I like the idea of an add-on, a model like Nimbld, to my more permanent workspace. It’s great to access some sites without being a full member, for client meetings, and events I prefer to be local but due to the nature of my work, it helps to be able to access different areas for meetings. But overall, I prefer to have a space walkable from home where I can access quiet space as well as active coworking space. I do like the idea of flexible member models and access, but I know like myself and others, the ability to access secure storage can be a make or break issue.
When I first started having conversations with businesses who were looking for workspace, one of the biggest issues were that people find it hard to know where to go to or what rates to expect, or if you can negotiate to make sure it works for their work or business. I think one of the biggest things that we really need to bear in mind when it comes to ideal space, is that many are not actively involved in the conversation.
In my work, prior to the pandemic, it was clear there are a lot of barriers for many parents, starter businesses, side hustlers, and disability access concerns and the pandemic has made this even more prevalent but still equally hard to navigate. I appreciate that there are many types of operators and scales when it comes to rates, but I think with the pandemic, businesses and operators need to be mindful and that they are take time to review and assess the values of the environment they are operating within. As we have talked a lot about boot the commute and 15-minute cities we need to look at the local landscape and the role that coworking spaces have within this landscape. There are so many positive and exciting ways to approach this conversation.
Are there any coworking spaces that give access to young people who might not necessarily have the income to pay the fees?
This is a great question and I believe it needs to be talked about more. Launch It offers an amazing incubator for under the 30s, and Business Launch Pad also have a great support offer, but it is embedded with business support and not just access to space.
I find it is usually down to the business or tenant in the space who might work with young people, not the operator who provides support over access to space. I think there is a lot here that can be improved so that it is cost-effective for the space, as well as approaching businesses and the young people within the area of a workspace. I think the tough question that is often hard to find a financially beneficial answer for, is whether the expectation should be on the operator who are expected to provide social value and manage the space to ensure there is access or support for young people and/or the local community, or is it down to tenants who rent out the spaces?
We saw at least a few young people attend our business panel events (pre-pandemic) who went home wanting to know more about at least one of the local businesses. Which has successfully led to some work experience and mentoring I am working on to expand. It may seem simple but actions like these within a community or local area can have huge impact we may underestimate when it comes to the topic of inclusion and support for the local economy.
I think if we can get young people to access a local coworking space and gain exposure to the tenants and how and why they are working locally, it will help develop all sides to think of the additional benefits to the current employment route, which is often uninspiringly, involves an average hour plus commute per day on minimum wage, and potentially zero-hour contracts.
What changes could we potentially make to coworking so it would benefit the community and Generation Z more?
I think we need to bring them into the room to collaborate and ask what they think and need. As an example, it might help to have a broader economic perspective. In terms of government, we could expand and codesign further social inclusion frameworks, to support spaces that develop intergenerational interactions. For example, despite the benefits of technology and social media, there are many issues that have impacted young people and their parent’s ways of working, including childcare costs, average commute times to work, and housing dynamics over the last 50 years.
On average young people have less access to intergenerational relationships beyond the household and school. It may seem a strange correlation on the surface, but I believe that many coworking spaces can offer community cohesion on a multicultural, social, and multigenerational level. It goes back to the idea of a library, despite being freely accessible, they are socio-economically inclusive, without so-called barriers. The role of coworking spaces, in regards to social value and providing some element of public or community engagement, might offer solutions we don’t currently have answers for, or don’t see how best to implement until the space is made or conversation is started on a hyper-local level.
This also leads to a second perspective in terms of the economy and not only for the benefit of young people. Having products and services accessible locally so that you don’t have to commute across London or order on Amazon, for instance, is something I think coworking spaces have room to test more actively. Especially in certain areas of London or the UK. I think that when people work, stay within a particular industry, or if you only shop online or the major supermarkets you can potentially limit innovation as well as the community. This is where I think workspaces provide a sector diverse as well as multicultural landscape that by default provides innovative solutions to businesses and creatives by learning from different people’s backgrounds and experiences. This is why I’m excited to see what new community and social solutions operators, tenants and young people come up with in regard to coworking spaces.