As the year draws to an end – let’s be honest, DRAGS to the end – I am looking back with a fair amount of pride at what we have managed to achieve at Indieworx Collective. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year!
This time in 2017, I had just handed my first draft proposal over to Harrogate Borough Council for opening up a coworking space in their old offices inside the convention centre. It took another few months of wrangling before they finally told me in May that they didn’t want to move ahead with the idea. The wheels of local government don’t half run slowly! Boo.
Anyway, not to be deterred and convinced that the idea I had was good even if the suits couldn’t see it, I went online that night and found an old warehouse and shop on Grove Road in Harrogate. The pictures were pretty poor but the price was right and there was a car park, so I called up, got the landlord’s number and arranged to come and see the place.
Still housing the stuff from the previous tenant who had gone bust and left all their stuff here, including mounds of dog hair and piles of vivariums for their exotic flora business, it could have been a challenge to see the potential. But at 4000 sq ft, two buildings and a discount in the first year, it seemed like it could be ideal.
I went away and rejigged my figures over and over, did a number of drawings to work out how best to get folks in and showed the space to a few people including the fire marshall who told me I’d need to pay for a fire escape to be put in and my business advisor who said that there was no funding available for this.
Regardless, I knew that Indieworx was a great idea and I knew from my conversations around the town that there was a demand for flexible workspace so I put in a bid for the place and signed the lease in July.
I’d had an architect draw up the plans for the fire escape and applied to the council for planning permission to turn the space into an office. The planning expert told me it was just a case of box ticking, but a good friend recommended I rounded people up to add support to the planning case online.
The case went crazy, to be honest, with a total of 82 comments from the public by the end of it, with three to one in our favour. Regardless, the application went to planning committee which took another 8 weeks and lots of stress. You can read the speech I gave there here.
We got planning through at the end of September and October was a mad dash of painting, installing the kitchen, fixing and the plan was to buy lots of furniture to kit the place out so it looked snazzy.
Alongside this, I had been working with the Ad:Venture programme for a year. My advisors there, Iain Edwards and Ian Rhodes were absolutely amazing at getting me from first tentative phone call where I said I wanted to open a coworking space but had no idea how to do a business plan. They helped with everything, from meetings with the council to creating comprehensive twenty page documents with local and national letters of support. I had applied for a grant to help me with the costs of opening the space, which included the electric fit out to add enough sockets, and getting rid of the storage heaters replacing them with radiators that actually worked.
I invested £12,500 of my own money into the space, and managed to get a start up loan for £25,000 to pay for the initial fit out and our first few months of rent. We’d applied for a grant of £12,000 to subsidise the startup costs which would have paid for 50% of the capital outlay. Unfortunately this fell through due to a pensive panel worried about first year cash flow, which ironically left the first year flow cash flow in a perilous position.
If I am honest, I got home one night following this decision and I cried. Having been homeless at 16, one of my biggest fears is this happening to me again and the idea of investing all this money onto a project only not to be able to afford to be open in the new year, let alone my rent and bills at home filled me with abject fear.
Within two hours of me hitting rock bottom, I had five enquiries about the space as my nearest competitor in town, the Regus office, had evicted everyone with just six days notice. Bad news for them but a windfall for me! It felt a bit like living in a Hallmark film though.
We opened in October on Halloween with a pizza and beer party and work day, which was pretty well attended, although folks didn’t arrive until after 11am and there was a bit of me feeling like no one was going to come….
Since then, we have come on in leaps and bounds. In fact, we’ve just signed up another member in the past hour – a walk in! That takes us up to 36 members either signed up or signign up for Januray. Amazing! We’ve broken even on operating costs already and things are looking pretty positive.
Plans for the new year include opening the second floor as a dedicated tech hub and innovation space and continuing to grow, with workshops run by Leeds Beckett, Coventry University and hopefully some run by us as we set up a Code Club for 9 – 13 year olds. To help support this growth we have launched our crowdfunding campaign which you can learn about here.
So, all in all, a pretty frantic year but things are really starting to feel like they’re heading on the up and up!
Have an awesome Christmas and we’ll hopefully see you in the New Year.