Our 8 tips for launching your own coworking space – and how we plan to grow ours

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As the world returns to work and the current COVID crisis slowly passes interest in coworking spaces is on the rise again. Certainly, more of us will work away from a traditional office environment more often. For some, after lengthy lockdowns, there is also the desire for added separation between home working and home life.

Politician and local authorities have eagerly embraced the idea of shared workspaces as part of their ‘building back better’ programmes and economic recovery plans. Here in Wales, the Welsh Government have swiftly adopted the policy of 30% of people working closer to home. And almost every town centre strategy or economic recovery plan we have read mentions coworking, hubs and reuse of empty property in the same paragraph.

Gwagle started in 2019 when we decided to take on our own empty town centre property to create a social workspace, establishing a new co-working community and helping to bring people back into our local town centre. We had a tiny budget but enough to buy some chairs and desks, install the broadband, equipped the kitchen and opened the doors. And 12 months later there was a community of 14 freelancers, consultants and creatives. The diversity is incredible with journalists, filmmakers, techies, designers, consultants, coaches and all sorts of creatives.

There were several reasons for launching Gwagle (in case you are wondering it’s Welsh for ‘space’ Gwag + lle), the first curated co-working community in Abergavenny.

  • We wanted to do our bit to help regenerate the local centre through repurposing a long term empty property whilst injecting some new people back into the town
  • To prove the concept worked in a small market town;
  • To convert ideas into action. Our regeneration consultancy doesn’t only write strategies and draw up impressive looking plans, we also invest our own time and funds to deliver the kind of schemes we encourage others to go and do; and
  • We wanted to create a community of like-minded freelancers, consultants and creatives eager for somewhere to work that wasn’t a quiet home office. Somewhere you can meet others, network, schedule meetings, and most importantly get your best work done.

How we did it? Here are our 8 tips for launching your coworking space:

  1. A great property and location – we spent over a year looking for good quality and affordable character property in the centre of Abergavenny, and we’ve learnt how important it is for our members to have the shops, services and hospitality venues on our doorstep.
  2. Superfast – We always get asked; do you have great broadband? There’s no compromising on this and in many cases our members use us to get away from the unreliable connection they experience at home.
  3. Nothing flashy – you can be a professional workspace without being flashy, and an ordinary and organic interior design is enough as long as there’s a big desk, comfy chair and it’s well-lit. Our focus has been on curating the working spirit that connects people and the social factors that make Gwagle different from staying at home.
  4. Flexible – it seems obvious but there are no clear work patterns nowadays so we are open 24/7 and 7 days a week and our users can come and go as they please. Having a flexible booking system and fees structure is essential. We’ve seen more interest from people wanting to use Gwagle for one or two days a week as part of a blended work pattern than those wanting their own full-time desk.
  5. Meeting room – our workspace is social with the background noise of activity. However, co-workers are asking for more opportunities to use private meeting spaces because considerably more work is taking place online through Zoom or Teams.
  6. Amenities – a well-equipped kitchen, ‘help yourself tea and coffee’ are a given. However, we have been surprised at the popularity of our bike storage area and having an office shower is a huge bonus and encourage cycling.
  7. Networking – There is nothing else like it; sure connecting and collaborating online is great, but you can’t discover and forge the same relationships through a screen as you can when you’re sat side by side with real people. Our workspace is relaxed and unassuming, creating the perfect breeding ground for discussion and ideas to be shared during those spontaneous chit-chats that occur in the office. However, it’s usually in the kitchen when the kettle boils that we most often get together and the creative conversations occur.
  8. Hosting – the workspace shouldn’t demand much day to day management but there must be an individual or business that plays the host, helps curates the space, makes sure new members are introduced, animates the office discussion, and keeps an eye on everyone being happy.

And what about the future?

We celebrated Gwagle’s first successful year in March last year with 14 co-workers and the week before lockdown. And despite facing huge strains whilst we were all instructed to work from home, juggling uncertainty with landlord negotiations and support grant applications, we can already see the sector bouncing back stronger.

Recently we’ve experienced freelancer retreating to working from home that has decided not to return but at the same time demand from newcomers that have recently moved to Abergavenny as part of the “reverse brain drain” away from cities as a result of COVID-19. There’s also greater interest from commuters looking for new hybrid working options closer to home as part of a blended work pattern.

We are interested in growing our space, taking on additional empty building and exploring the potential for the public sector and corporate occupiers seeking greater flexibility in the post-pandemic era, looking for on-demand office space that feels safe for employees. And with a growing interest in technology-enabled SMART towns we want to explorer how we incorporate IoT (internet of things) technology that enables Gwagle and our community to work better, faster and of course, smarter.

If you want to know more about how we started our co-working space, the impact it has had on our town centre and our growth plans why not get in touch with Owen? And details about our shared workspace www.Gwagle.co.uk

Owen is a planning, regeneration and local economic development consultant – making places more memorable, liveable and viable for over 25 years. With experience across more than 60 towns and city centre locations he was chosen to be a member of the Expert Panel on the government commissioned High Street Task Force in 2020.

Moving forward with public realm improvements in Wincanton Town Centre

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The town centre enjoys an abundance of attractive heritage buildings however, the Wincanton Town Centre Strategy which Owen Davies Consulting worked on as part of the team led by Chilmark Consulting identified that its footways and public spaces would benefit from  enhancement.

An improved public realm will support existing businesses by creating a better environment in which to trade and by providing improved spaces for community activities. A more attractive town centre will also help to change perceptions and encourage new businesses, more visitors and longer stays which will help to revitalise the town through increased footfall and spending.

The public realm designs have been prepared by Element Urbanism on behalf of South Somerset District Council will help to improve perceptions, support existing businesses by creating a better environment  in which to trade and provide improved spaces for community  activities. This will increase the attractiveness of the town  encouraging people to visit and stay longer, revitalising the town through increased footfall and spending.

You can view the full design package here

https://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/news/2021/4/we-want-your-views-on-public-realm-improvements-in-wincanton/

What do you think? Let Owen know, he’s is a place shaper and skilled regeneration consultant with experience covering over 60 towns and city centre locations across the UK. In 2020, Owen was chosen by the government commissioned High Street Task Force as one of their Expert Panel Member.

 

Making it easier for the high street to trade outdoors

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To support the high street, hospitality and tourism sectors, the Welsh Government are temporarily relaxing planning control to make it easier to erect and leave up marquees and other temporary structures, have street furniture outside businesses and change the use of a retail unit.

The ‘new temporary permitted development rights to support economic recovery’ published this month covers:

  • Temporary use of land is allowed for an additional 28 days
  • Use of land for the holding of markets by local authorities
  • Temporary changes of use to enable businesses to trial alternative uses within town centres for a short period of time
  • The use of the highway adjacent to premises falling within Class A3 (food and drink) for the purposes of selling or serving food or drink
  • Awnings over external areas where customers and members of the public congregate to be served food or drink

We have worked closely with the hospitality sector over recent years to champion the flexible use of outside spaces including our proposals in Cardiff’s Mill Lane and Swansea’s Wind Street. Planning and licensing rule can be a problem for business wishing to trade flexibly outdoors and this is an important temporary step in support the reopening of businesses and their efforts to create safe environments for the public using the high street, and spending with the hospitality and tourism sectors. However, the Welsh Government say they will be monitoring the impact of these amendments with a view to making broader, permanent amendments to the GPDO next year.

The link to the Welsh Governments Statement

https://gov.wales/coronavirus-covid-19-new-temporary-permitted-development-rights-support-economic-recovery-html

Winners and losers – the Levelling Up & Shared Prosperity Funding for Wales

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There are clear ‘winners and losers’ in Wales when the new Levelling Up Fund and Shared Prosperity Fund map is compared to the previous EU Structural Funds. And for the first time since devolution local authorities can by-pass Welsh Government and bid directly to Westminster, and there’s a new funding innovation with MP’s helping to boost the number of projects funded in each area.

Announced with yesterdays Budget the UK Government published the prospectus  documents on how local areas in Wales can submit bids for the Levelling Up Fund and Shared Prosperity Fund (or Community Renewal Fund for 2021-22).

In addition to the controversy over local authorities being able to by-pass Welsh Government and make bids directly to Westminster for these funds, they were also strongly anticipated to be a direct replacement for EU structural funds in Wales. We have identified where these new funds are prioritised and compared them to the EU Structural Funds map of Wales.

‘Winners and Losers’

  • Powys is clearly the major winner having gone from a ‘more developed area’ outside of the main EU programme to a priority area under both the Levelling Up and Shared Prosperity funds
  • Caerphilly and Bridgend not included in the Shared Prosperity Fund priority area and potentially misses out on replacement EU funds.
  • Wrexham gains new funding opportunities through the Levelling Up Fund whilst both Gwynedd and Anglesey miss out
  • Flintshire, Monmouthshire, Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff and Newport make no progress in the funding stakes.

Levelling Up Fund – impactful infrastructure projects – those that help bring pride to a local area – are often smaller in scale and geography: regenerating a town centre, local investment in cultural facilities or upgrading local transport infrastructure. Delivered by local authorities who can submit one bid for every MP whose constituency lies wholly within their boundary. Every local authority can submit at least one bid. While preference will be given to bids from higher priority areas (shown in the figure), the bandings do not represent eligibility criteria, nor the amount or number of bids a place can submit. Bids from other categories (2 and 3) will still be considered for funding on their merits of deliverability, value for money and strategic fit, and could still be successful if they are of exceptionally high quality. (targets 17 local authority areas in Wales)

Shared Prosperity Fund – EU Structural Funds will continue until 2023 and replaced through the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund (£1.5 billion a year). This new Fund, to be launched in 2022, will operate through the UK Government but to start with the UK Community Renewal Fund being provided for 2021-22. (targets 14 local authority areas in Wales)

 

Velo Park – enhancing Monmouthshire’s national & international reputation for cycle sport & tourism

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We’ve been working with Monmouthshire County Council and Welsh Cycling to prepare plans to create a ‘Velo Park’ cycling facility in the Abergavenny area to enhance the reputation of the town and county as one of the foremost cycling destinations in Wales. The initiative builds on the partnership with local clubs to promote grassroots cycling and high profile and successful national and regional scale cycling events held in the town in recent years.

In Monmouthshire, there is a commitment to increase the accessibility and quality of physical activity opportunities for all residents, with the aim of supporting healthy lifestyles for its residents and allowing them to achieve their sporting potential. It includes ensuring cycling is a mainstream activity, and for Monmouthshire to meet its National and International reputation for cycle sport and tourism.

Developing the physical infrastructure, making cycling safer, easier and more integrated across Monmouthshire includes a commitment to developing a Velo Park including a closed road circuit (CRC) to act as a base for cycling across the county. The facility will support the promotion of cycling for leisure, tourism, club and school development as well as national and regional level racing and event.

Our team* prepared the feasibility studies and designs for the proposed Velo Park which includes a mix of facilities suitable for road, cyclocross and entry-level mountain biking. The emphasis is on providing features that attract a broader range of users (families, leisure cyclists, competitors) to experience coaching, training, racing as well as recreational use. It will also be available for other wheeled non-motorised sports including running, roller skiing and use by wheelchairs and adapted bikes.

The design of the Velo Park has carefully balanced the sites sensitive landscape and ecology with the suitability of the terrain and nearby facilities to support cycling and wheeled sports.

The scheme design was launched this week to encourage the local community and stakeholder to comment prior to the submission of a planning application in early 2021. Details of the scheme can be found here  http://www.monmouthshire.gov.uk/velo-park

*Our team – we worked with Cotswold Transport Planning, Element Urbanism and HydroGeo

Becoming a High Streets Task Force Expert

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I’m delighted to have been appointed as a High Streets Task Force Expert and being part of this national effort and supporting local authorities and communities to transform their high streets. 

The High Streets Task Force announces today their appointment of recognised experts to support local authorities, helping to solve complex, interdisciplinary issues, and bringing expertise to entrenched problems and new challenges.

High Streets Task Force Experts advise on a range of issues, including planning, urban design, placemaking, landscape architecture, resilience, transport, valuation, asset management, investment, governance, data and analytics, place management and leadership. Once assigned, Experts also to help to prescribe Task Force support that best meets the needs of the places that they visit and advise, helping to tackle a range of issues that could be blocking the potential of the local high streets.

The High Streets Task Force has recruited to the Experts register through four professional bodies, including the Royal Town Planning Institute, which represent specialist expertise and knowledge, working for and alongside those that manage high streets.

Experts are experienced and respected professionals, at Member or Fellow level of their respective professional body. We will: 

  • Visit specific high streets and town centres to work with place leaders and the community to identify the important key issue(s) that are hampering successful transformation, and how to address these.
  • Consult with local authorities and place stakeholders to help solve complex challenges, which may also include running vision workshops and brokering relationships within the local community.

    Read more > www.highstreetstaskforce.org.uk

Owen

Co-creating Regional Economic Frameworks – Mid & South West Wales

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The economies of Mid Wales and South West Wales are intrinsically connected. And Welsh Government wish to develop a set of priorities which will be key in helping both areas’ economies recover from the impacts of coronavirus and meet the challenges posed by the UK leaving the European Union.

Owen Davies Consulting are assisting Welsh Government as they look to the future therefore and consider both the long-term economic development of the region, as well as its short-term post-Covid-19 reset and recovery.

Co-creating Regional Economic Frameworks during the current pandemic and with social distancing is less than straightforward. It’s critical that the Frameworks are ultimately co-owned, by those whose lives they will impact upon.

Therefore, a pioneering approach is being taken to draft the Frameworks that allows all voices to be heard via a range of online activities run by the Co-production Network for Wales and Cazbah.

If you’re interested in the economic future of Mid and South West Wales or the methods being used to encourage involvement then take a look here – https://midandsouthwest.commonplace.is/

Owen

Improving open spaces across a social housing estate.

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Four of our planning application for environmental improvements have been granted this week – they increase residential amenity and the quality of open spaces within a predominately affordable housing estate located in Caldicot, Monmouthshire. This is particularly timely following lockdown and the greater emphasis on improving outside spaces for health and wellbeing.

We have been working with Element Urbanism for our client Monmouthshire Housing Association (MHA) who are proposing substantial environmental enhancement of four open spaces within the housing estate known as ‘The Views’, located in Caldicot. The designs include the redesign of the community space, new garden boundaries to help encourage social interaction, play, healthy activities, whilst also improving drainage, visual character and biodiversity.

The four communal spaces are heavily enclosed by housing that forms part of the original layout of the estate built some 40 years ago. The potential for amenity use has gradually diminished over the years and the spaces are currently featureless and of poor quality in terms of design and materials. The condition and layout of the hard and soft areas are not conducive to their use by residents and are visually monotonous and unattractive. The garden boundaries fronting the space generally comprise low trip-rails and are in poor condition.

As a central component of the design process, we have worked with MHA to involve the tenants and private residents to identify and agree with the nature of the improvements.

The proposals include new cross-route across the spaces to allow more convenient access, resurfaced high-quality lawns and new multi-functional low walls that can be used for seating, play and as a distinctive design feature. The spaces will also include boulders to allow informal opportunities for seating and active play. The landscape proposals include a SuDS surface water drainage scheme that will integrate with the overall aesthetic of the proposals. Swales will retain surface water at, or near, surface-level and will form ‘rain-gardens’ supporting a diverse planting. These areas will connect with adjacent proposed areas of lawn, wild-flower, shrub, and tree planting.  Species have been selected for both their suitability to thrive in the prevailing site conditions, seasonal interest, and their enhancement of biodiversity through the provision of habitats, food, and pollen.

Regarding sustainability, health and wellbeing, the primary objective of the project is to ensure long-term improvement in quality and amenity of an existing area of predominantly affordable housing.

Owen Davies Consulting has over a decades experience working with RSL’s to audit, masterplan, design and deliver their estate renewal and regeneration programmes and would love to hear about your next housing project. Please drop Owen a line.

“I never normally ask for help” – how a social media plea helped a small Welsh business survive lockdown

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“I never normally ask for help,”  said Carwyn Adams when I recently met the artisan cheesemakers and owner of Caws Cenarth near Newcastle Emlyn in Carmarthenshire. We were discussing the dramatic impact of COVID 19 on his business. When 80% of their orders disappear at the beginning of lockdown a state of panic had enveloped his business.

Then, on 20th March Carwyn decided to post his first-ever YouTube video, his plea “This is dire times…” with an authentic and heartfelt message had an amazing 30,000 + views. Following the post, 3,000 new customers came forward to help, the phone didn’t stop ringing, the orders flooded in and the business sold out of cheese in 3 days.

A chance discussion about the YouTube post with filmmaker Ross Anderson led to our collaboration and the making of this beautiful film about the Caws Cenarth’s COVID 19 experience. The film captures the story of their journey from desperate times at the start of lockdown to success following the social media plea. We met Elfyn the dairy farmer and supplier to Caws Cenarth that had nowhere to send his milk, as well as the employees that quickly learnt to deal with customers over the phone instead of  loading pallets of cheese onto a lorry destined for the supermarkets. Many challenges remain for Carwyn and his team, and a new business model is only beginning to emerge as it adapts to a new normal.

I hope you enjoy watching our 5-minute film, produced by a professional film crew that also volunteered their time because they were inspired by the story and eager to re-start shooting following lockdown.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0Fv3xuwH0A

Owen is currently working with Carmarthenshire Council to help boost the economic fortunes and growth of five rural towns supported by the Ten Towns Initiative. Ross Anderson Mr Anderson Limited is an award-winning creative director and producer located in Abergavenny that wanted to help tell a real, authentic story of a business surviving lockdown.

Shutdown Towns – how was Saturday trading in Abergavenny?

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On my local high street this weekend, 30% of the businesses stayed closed despite the lifting of retail lockdown.

All non-essential retail shops have been able to reopen this week in Wales, provided they follow Government guidelines to make them “Covid-secure”. These include clothes and shoe shops, book shops, electronics retailers, and shops selling toys. The hospitality industry, unfortunately, remains shutdown by the restrictions.

During the lockdown, I have observed the business activity in the normally thriving Abergavenny town centre, as it gradually begins to reopen. Essential businesses have been open for some time, and a handful of restaurants and bars have adjusted to by offering takeaway services – this has allowed them to reopen much sooner than would have been otherwise possible.

With today being the first Saturday since retail restrictions have been lifted, a quick survey of Abergavenny’s main high street shows that some 65% of businesses were open. The town centre felt busy and quite vibrant, and it was great to be a local shopper once again. There were quite a lot of people on street queuing, and this probably made the centre feel artificially busier than it actually was.

However, a third of businesses that could have opened decided to keep their shutters down. It’s clear that charity shops are finding it challenging as none of the shops on the high street were open – maybe because of their reliance on volunteer and often older-aged and more vulnerable staff. The other noticeable closures included travel agents and probably more surprisingly the branded coffee chains.

Even though there seems to be an equal mix of independent and branded businesses closed, it was worrying to see so many of the town’s distinctive independents not back in business. Let’s hope none of these has become a longer-term casualty of lockdown – this is something to keep an eye on over the coming weeks.

How many businesses have reopened in your town?

Owen

7A Nevill Street, Abergavenny, NP7 5AA
Why not call us first for a chat on 07809 594524
If you prefer then send an email to Owen Davies at owen@owendaviesconsulting.co.uk