A Day In The Life of London’s Coworking Spaces
The sound of typing ripples through the room, washing over the group like waves. An air of hushed concentration hangs above the rows of gently bowed heads on the second floor at Huckletree. Mid-morning sunlight breaks through the windows and pours into the grooves of the wooden benches. Carefully so as not to disturb anyone, a man in a suit slides off his seat and potters over to the kitchen.
A couple of girls stand by the kettle, locked in to an animated discussion.
“I’m so happy he went for it! I really needed that today. It’s a huge weight off my mind.”
“That’s great, you deserve it!”
They high five each other, grinning widely as they change the subject to wedding dress shopping. He finishes making his coffee and exits rapidly.
Back in the shared workspace there’s more high fives as the rest of the team learns the good news. Words like “investors”, “seed-funding” and “next steps” are thrown around as conversation turns from congratulations to pragmatics. An infectious energy rushes into the room. Someone gets up to take a phone call in the far corner. The printer lights up and starts spitting out documents. The stairs creak, a dog appears. The man in a suit slips back into his seat, stealing a look out of the window at the grandeur of Clerkenwell’s Smithfield Market before going back to typing, this time with renewed vigour.
The same thing happens across town at Launch22, tucked down an unassuming side street just steps away from the bustle of Old Street roundabout. A group of kids runs through a seed funding pitch one last time. Young entrepreneurs hunch over Macs, Stussy hats obscuring their concentrated frowns. M83 blares through the speakers. The door opens, and the dog runs over to greet the new arrival. For the first time all afternoon, the girl in a hoody breaks her focus away from the screen and looks up at the entrance. She doesn’t stop typing, and her gaze returns to the screen a second later. Across the bench from her Eddie Holmes, entrepreneur, tucks into a box of take-away noodles, deep in conversation with another young hopeful. The atmosphere of intense concentration continues unstirred.
At THECUBE in Shoreditch, natural light floods the space for most of the day, spilling onto the hefty leaves of the plants inside. The left wall is covered in the latest art exhibition; drawings, and words, scribbled onto crisp white sheets. Araceli Camargo, THECUBE’s founder, emerges from the kitchen carrying a freezer bag full of apple segments. “The design of the space is informed by neuroscience,” she is saying. “Everything has been selected to be adaptive and responsive. It breeds curiosity.”
She climbs the stairs up to the mezzanine level, where several rows of desks blend into the all-white space. A few laptops pepper the otherwise pristine vista. Some of the city’s biggest brains occupy this coworking space: a surgeon, a political economist and a molecular biologist to name a few. Someone returns from a meeting bearing treats, and Important Work takes a brief pause as the sticky, caramelly delight of an apple turnover is shared out.
Things are a little more lo-fi over at 90 Main Yard in Hackney Wick. Industrial plug sockets poke out over the thick sheets of MDF forming desk units. Chunky wires run up concrete columns towards the ceiling. Mismatching furniture forms a snug reception area at the entrance. In the kitchen, a group of guys in tattered jeans and dark jumpers make tea.
“I’d much rather be here than in one of those other spaces on Silicon Roundabout,” says a guy with an eyebrow piercing. “I’m much too old to be hanging around with teenage boys making fart jokes all the time and bragging about how much investment they’ve got.”
“Come on, you’re just as bad! Remember all the fun we used to have with breading?” his mate replies. They burst into uncontrollable laughter, much to the bewildered faces of their companions.
“Oh it’s a VT thing – far too crude for us to explain to upright citizens like yourselves,” they giggle in reply.
A long time ago the space housed a dye-cutting factory. After that it became a popular venue for raves, often attended by Remi Landaz and Tori Bravery, a local couple who met working at fabric nightclub. They converted it into its current incarnation as a coworking space with adjoining bar and restaurant. “It’s part of growing up,” they explain. Perhaps they don’t know what breading is either.
Bread or no bread, lunch is eaten together every Monday at the Impact Hub in Islington. Today, the office manager is complaining about how much she hates the dentist. On the other end of the table the newest arrival, a girl from Russia, is talking about a personal project to “save the little orphan bears”. Itsu pots and empty tupperware are swiftly put away as everyone stands for the stretching part of the hour. It feels good after a morning in front of the laptop. On the final exhale, everyone returns to the table for a last exercise in mindfulness. “It’s the difference between doing and being,” the leader breathes out in a soothing tone. The rest of the afternoon passes peacefully.
Home was too quiet, coffee shop was too loud. They swap tips, contacts and skills across the desk, while the kettle’s boiling, at members events. Wifi might fuel them, but it’s stolen moments like these that keep coworking spaces alive.