“What Collective offers is a roof over your head, free WiFi, and the ability to get on with it.”
Camden Collective is a regeneration project offering subsidised workspace to creative start-ups and training academies. The company evolves as new workspaces become available, and existing spaces are repurposed, but they have a keen following of entrepreneurs and a strong presence in the Camden area. We visited its newest hub, the Collective Temperance Hospital, to find out what’s on offer.
The Collective Temperance Hospital offers free hot-desking to any of its members. Accessible 24 hours a day, it provides a creative space for early stage start-ups to flesh out their ideas alongside other entrepreneurs. For growing businesses, there are also number of subsidised office spaces available allowing more freedom to share ideas and the space to build a team. And the subsidy is critical: we heard that while there is not a lack of workspace in London as such, it is the lack of affordable workspace that is holding business back.
This is part of what makes sites such as the Collective Temperance Hospital so attractive to start-ups. There is a catch, however. Part of the ethos of the company, and the way in which they make the office space affordable, is to temporarily repurpose underused or vacant buildings, much in the same way as property guardians do. But there is no certainty of how long the space might remain available. Nevertheless, the rustic feel and strong sense of community appeals to creative entrepreneurs: production company House of Greenland moved in when the workspace first opened, having previously operated out of the co-founders’ living room. They knew about Camden Collective from the strong presence it had in the area and, because the workspace is specifically targeted at the creative sector, they instantly felt part of a community:
“Everyone considers themselves a business. It gives you more credibility, you can have clients coming over. Even if it is a bit unconventional, it is still really cool for the businesses. For our clients to come here and see us here, they feel like we’re edgy and cool.”
Then there is the support: Camden Collective offer a wide range of business support across their hubs; from a three week intensive accelerator programme, to one-to-one sessions with the staff. They offer ‘lunchtime specials’ targeted at small groups with a specific support need such as accountancy or ‘PR on a shoestring’ and they arrange evening talks, open to members and non-members alike. Much of what they offer is free of charge, or offered to members at a subsidised rate. Head of Projects, Nadine Spencer, tells us that the support offer has grown organically and evolved with demand:
“We try not to come up with an idea that we think will be good without having any evidence from the businesses here… all I have to do is go out and ask ten of them to get quite a clear idea of whether they want it or not.”
In addition, in return for use of the workspace, businesses are asked to contribute two hours of their time per month to the growth and success of a project. This could be either to Camden Collective – if they are a photographer, they may take pictures for the website; if they are a designer, they might help with flyers or branding advice – or to a fellow start-up: if one business comes in asking for specific advice, i.e. on a crowdfunding campaign, they can be matched to a business that has already been through that process and can offer advice and talk them through their experience.
This has helped to build a peer network which is a source of support in itself:
“The biggest thing really, is that the knowledge that [the businesses] have amongst themselves is the most, most valuable. Even if they are only a couple of months ahead of someone else, they have been through it from the same perspective and it is fresh in their mind. That is actually the most valuable.”
While experts are brought in to deliver many of the organised support sessions, Nadine and the rest of the staff are also able to offer a considerable amount of support and recommendations of their own. There is also quite evidently a strong sense of camaraderie and members often utilise each other’s skillsets to grow their own business:
“we’ve done bits and pieces for various different companies within the building. It’s definitely a great opportunity for collaboration and sharing ideas. It’s really productive.”
The model clearly works, as the start-ups we spoke to could only speak positively about their experience at the workspace, the support they have received and the contacts they have made through being a part of the Camden Collective community.
“They are really proactive about supporting businesses and they really want businesses to succeed here. They are really, really good at encouraging that.”
“The support is invaluable, even if you look at it in the broader sense: the location; the affordability, what [the staff] can do to help us out.”