Freedom to work

Mon 21 March 2016, 11:41 am

With its thriving third space, Ealing exemplifies a new flexible working culture. Could it be a blueprint for the future of the workplace? Lucy Purdy finds out

Illustration by Tammy Kerr

Accounting for two-thirds of new jobs since 2008, self-employment is on the rise. More than one in seven workers are now employed in this way in the UK – a swelling army of 4.5 million. While the economy benefits from the flexible expertise independent professionals can offer, workers benefit from more balance. It amounts to a structural shift in the way we work.

If the trend continues as expected, our social infrastructure will have to change too, and Ealing is one of the places leading the way. Well-connected for central London, but with a vibrant creative scene of its own, the borough offers an enviable location alongside affordable rents and studio space for freelancers and young businesses, particularly those in creative fields.

Ealing Council leader Julian Bell said the trend is a marked one, as a recent small business expo event confirmed.

“Chatting to the many 60 or so exhibitors, what was striking was how many of them said: ‘I used to work in the City but now I have my own business and I’m working in Ealing. I’m so glad I am. My quality of life has improved. Why didn’t I do this before?’

“They were all saying the same thing. There was a whole host of all sorts of different small businesses, each with their own story.”

The practice of making use of so- called ‘third space’ work locations is thriving in Ealing, as Lauren Morrissette, manager of Artisan coffee shop in New Broadway explains.

“We have a lot of people who come in with their laptops, plug in and spend the day working here. Some spend three or four days a week here so we see the same faces – one is a film producer for example – and get to know them well. Lots of businesses also hold meetings here.

“I know a lot of people don’t want to work in a traditional office any more, but get distracted working from home. Here, you come in, have your coffee, tune in and work.”

Morrissette says the shop – one of four London premises owned by the same independent, family-run business – has done a roaring trade since opening in August 2014. Eye-catching design touches help make it a space in which people want to linger, from tables topped with upcycled leatherworking blocks to a wall constructed from funkily shaped secondhand windows.

A photo series called West End Girls and West End Boys hangs from the walls – the work of Chris Moxey, a photographer who has called Ealing home for 20 years.

For the many freelancers and small businesses working in the creative fields in Ealing, from the film industry which has long called the borough home to those in media, photography, IT and design roles, this kind of space fits the bill perfectly.

“Creative people don’t necessarily want to be shut away in an office. They want to go somewhere with a bit of life, where people around can inspire them,” notes Morrissette.

What about businesses taking the next step? What are the options for Ealing firms with perhaps a handful of staff needing a space and address from which to work, but who can’t yet make the financial commitment to a full-blown office?

Step forward James Scott. Scott is COO of The Collective, a property company built around its co-living product: rental accommodation for young professionals that acknowledges this blurring boundary between life and work. Scott’s team is behind the revamped Doughnut Factory, a creative workspace in Acton Central where desk membership starts at £245 a month and where an entrepreneurial generation that prioritises “flexibility, creativity and fulfilment” is number one. 

Scott and his team understand keenly the needs of this kind of entrepreneur, and have tried to respond in every aspect of the space.

“This new type of worker is not tied to a fixed desk or stuck behind a computer screen for hours on end, but tends to be out and about in meetings – networking and making connections – so craves flexibility. Similarly, they crave collaborative environments in which they can be around others who relate to what they are going through and the challenges they face.

“Workers are also more conscious of the look and feel of a workplace, choosing to base themselves where they’re going to feel inspired and work at their best.”

A longer version of this article features in the new issue of Ealing in London magazine

Click here to get your free copy


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