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Frome work hub proving enterprise in UK is alive and co-working

FORWARD Space workhub ‘The Old Church School’ has bucked the trend of many other co-working spaces across the globe – by growing steadily since opening its doors to local businesses and start-ups in June 2007. 

The flexible workspace is now home to over 70 start-ups, freelancers and small businesses who work alongside each other in the ‘pay as you go’ office set-up.

Many co-working spaces are wary of ‘the four year drop’ (according to deskmag; a magazine dedicated to the co-working movement) where members of such spaces begin to lose their satisfaction and attachment, eventually leaving this niche working environment. Frome’s hub has seen few members leave and many of those that do, have grown as a result of the nurturing business community within the space, and set up shop in the town centre; adding to other independent businesses located in the town.

Frome was recently dubbed as the ‘hipsturbian utopia’ of Somerset, in national newspaper The Times and is well-known as a tourist destination for its markets; eco friendly schemes; charities and innovative social enterprises’ such as The Bicycle Academy.

The Old Church School, a Grade II listed building is the first Forward space workhub, set up by Gavin Eddy, an Angel Investor who relocated to Frome in 2006 from London. He has since become an ambassador for Into Somerset and is a great proponent of Frome.

Now in its 6th year, the workhub has taken on an apprentice and expanded – after initial objection, the project was given the go-ahead by planners in October last year. Building work is currently taking place to create 19 new studios; a cafe; events space and an additional co-working space.

Services Forward space provides reflects the needs of the small business community at large, as the world of work has changed through the last few decades, with home-working and flexi-time becoming the norm for many small businesses. Gavin explained, “The target market for Forward Space was start-ups and emerging companies in their first five years; however with flexi-working and more demand for larger, private office facilities, the business model has evolved to include services for established SMEs and satellite workers for the larger corporation.

“I thought I could offer mentoring and investment to businesses, while providing workspace units as well. Almost by accident I discovered that the demand for this kind of workspace was very strong. Companies no longer need to be in big cities, but they want workspace options that are consistent with their business aspirations.

“In the South West, high-skilled people have previously had to commute to the big cities to earn higher salaries; with a lot of them commuting to Bristol, Swindon, Exeter and even London. Workhubs in town centres provide viable alternatives to small high-growth businesses, enabling these skilled workers to stay local and reduce their carbon footprint.”

Forward Space employs three people and provides workspace to a range of SMEs from sole traders to businesses with six or seven staff, with office services and management on site. Many of those businesses have the benefit from Gavin’s advice and experience, too. Gavin added, “I’m particularly proud that I have managed to work with a lot of SMEs and had an impact on them, helping them to move forward.”

The hub’s expansion looks set to be completed in Autumn this year.