For Gen X, Rural Co-Working Spaces Are Fulfilling The Promise Of A ‘Creative Community’
In the US, small towns are launching co-working space to attract young professionals. Co-working spaces are cropping up in rural UK too, but for different reasons. A new co-working facility in Hampshire is catering to older, relatively affluent people whose careers are already established.
Mike Stead, the entrepreneur behind the project, hopes Whitchurch’s connectivity can unleash the creativity landlocked in the rural wilds. His Whitchurch Hub facility will be a place people come to work, have a chat, meet a client or even conduct a job interview. It will be built out with 15 to 20 desks, plus some conference space and a long bar to drink coffee and check email.
Mike says the co-working hub will be less a cool business than a community resource, sustained by the people who use it. And those people are not the fresh-faced Millennials that most think of using co-working.
Demographics have changed in rural England, leaving few young people in the villages, like Whitchurch (shown). Creative, ambitious young people head for London to carve out a life and career. Older people who can afford to leave the hustle of London for a country property are still in the prime of their careers. That’s why co-working in small UK towns attracts people in their 30s and 40s who perhaps have kids and work from home, but need more genuine workspace than a spare bedroom. They don’t want the expense and hassle of commuting into London, but they want the connectivity and some of the amenities that London provides.
Mike was one of those people. His three kids and two dogs made it infeasible to conduct a business call, and the constant interruptions were eating into his productivity. Mike asked around, and found that there were many people who positively longed for a top-flight work space close to home, a place to interact, collaborate, concentrate. He posted his idea on a Whitchurch community Facebook page and the response was overwhelming. Not only were people clamouring for co-working, many wanted to help. Lawyers and marketers happily volunteered their expertise, and within days the Whitchurch Hub was officially happening.
It isn’t just IT workers who are interested, Mike tells us. One of the first people to jump into his co-working facility creates bespoke sash window joinery.
Pictured: River Test in Whitchurch
Connectivity is a huge issue in the UK, with swaths of the country still without basic internet. In 2010, Whitchurch won BT’s “Race To Infinity” broadband competition, which meant the town would be one of the first 10 rural areas in Britain to be upgraded to fibre-optic technology. Roll-out began in May 2012 but the plan for high-speed internet to branch into other rural communities didn’t quite happen. People in Bourne Valley, just four miles away, have scant internet connectivity and almost no phone signal. (Shown: Whitchurch Silk Mill)
The space Mike and his partners have selected is a central Whitchurch location with three floors. On the second floor, Mike figures they can comfortably fit 10 to 12 desks. On the third floor, four or five desks or perhaps a large conference table. There is also enough space to set up a long bar along the wall with barstools, where people can drink coffee and check email.
For the landlord, someone from an old Whitchurch family, the co-working space is a pretty safe gamble, Mike says. He isn’t relying on one brand or just one person to make the space a success; the risk has been diversified through the whole community.
While his focus is local, Mike is already thinking about the world beyond Whitchurch. He’s exploring reciprocal relationships with other co-working facilities.