Launchpad to success: The Bishop's Stortford business centre with its own community vibe
In the past decade, the number of self-employed people in the UK has risen by almost 700,000 from 3.8 to 4.5 million, according to the Office of National Statistics.
No surprise then that in line with this, the demand for flexible workspace has also soared, with London leading the way as the global capital for co-working spaces, ahead of New York.
With an estimated one in seven people working for themselves, people are increasingly looking beyond the boundaries of their spare room or home office for alternative places to work, collaborate and create, with around two-thirds of the UK’s flexible workspace market now outside of London.
In October last year, Bishop’s Stortford proved to be ahead of the curve when East Herts Council became the first local authority to open its first co-working facility, Launchpad.
Over the past 12 months it has evolved into a thriving hub where people have the opportunity to interact with a community of like-minded freelancers, entrepreneurs and start-ups.
It can be really hard to get into the work mindset when you're working from home or for yourself, so coming here can bring a bit of structure and discipline to the day. There's a lot to be said about being around people even if you're not talking to them
Located in Charringtons House, Old River Lane, Launchpad provides low-cost co-working space with flexible desk and office share solutions for those looking to avoid the daily grind of commuting, or who are craving the community feeling they lost when they left the office to go it alone.
With an initial target of 30 enquiries in its first year, Launchpad has fielded 180 from people looking for a new working environment within a shared, supportive community, with almost 80 taking up its three-month free trial and 20 going on to become fully paid-up members.
Chris Smith, East Herts Council’s business and economic development manager, said: “Most councils contract these services out to a training provider, so I’m very proud to be able to say that East Herts is the first to do this itself.
“I was familiar with the concept of co-working spaces and thought we had an opportunity to fill a gap in the market, but we really had no idea whether anybody would be interested. As with any new venture, you never know if it’s going to work, but the response has been above and beyond our expectations.”
It's hard enough to walk into somewhere new without worrying about the financial risk of being tied in, but at Launchpad there's no risk. You can try it out and if you like it then you can stay. There's no pressure.
He said that its success has partly been down to ensuring that Launchpad is “friction free”, with no barriers to how people use the space.
“Our approach from the beginning has always been how we can accomodate the needs of our users and not the other way round,” he said.
“When we first talked about the three-months free offer there was a bit of trepidation from some quarters, but actually it’s given people the confidence to come here.
“It’s hard enough to walk into somewhere new without worrying about the financial risk of being tied in, but at Launchpad there’s no risk. You can try it out and if you like it then you can stay. There’s no pressure.”
From copywriters and accountants to architects and web developers, Launchpad has attracted freelancers from a broad spectrum of sectors, supporting them to develop and grow their business ventures. This collaborative approach is why Launchpad is more than just superfast broadband and a spacious desk.
For those missing chats round the office water cooler, brainstorming lunches with colleagues and even the Christmas party, Launchpad offers the chance to connect with others not only socially but to take advantage of a pool of talent and resources that can help them in their own businesses.
Paula Beades, Launchpad’s business development and community manager, said many freelancers report experiencing isolation and loneliness when setting up by themselves, with the lack of social interaction crippling productivity and feelings of wellbeing.
“We really have started to build this great collaborative community,” she said. “There’s a whole rainbow of skills from all sorts of sectors and everyone has the chance to add their own talents to the pot.
“It’s been really interesting to hear people’s reasons for coming here too. Some are start-ups, some are freelancers, some are corporates and some are working from home but are sick of being surrounded by the kids’ toys and just want to get out of the house.
“It can be really hard to get into the work mindset when you’re working from home or for yourself, so coming here can bring a bit of structure and discipline to the day. There’s a lot to be said about being around people even if you’re not talking to them.”
She added: “Our users really have created their own space. The vibe is professional but friendly and it’s evolved into a really nice place to work with a great buzz.”
In August, Launchpad extended its hours beyond the traditional 9-5 working day to allow 24-hour access to members. There are plans to expand into the adjoining vacant office space to create additional breakout areas, collaborative working spaces and meeting rooms.
There is talk about franchising the Launchpad model, with interest from other authorities looking to open their own co-working hubs.
Paula said: “Other councils are interested in how it’s working so it could be used as a blueprint and rolled out to other parts of East Herts and beyond. You never know, as Stortford expands, we might even see smaller neighbourhood hubs popping up in the future too.”
For full details of Launchpad, including pricing, visit https://launchpadstortford.co.uk.