Creating a co-working space to reflect what Sheffield is all about

Creating a co-working space to reflect what Sheffield is all about

02 November 2016

Photo credit: Matt Hill (Project Co-ordinator, Union St) and Chris Hale (BBC Masterchef Quarterfinalist)

Sitting downstairs in the pop-up café of Union St, Sheffield's very own city centre co-working space, Matt and I chat over freshly brewed coffee, roasted by one of the start-ups currently hosted here.

It's a busy morning. There's a yoga session running on the first floor, entrepreneurs at work on the second floor and preparation underway for Monday's pop-up café launch downstairs.

The atmosphere is calm but sociable. People walk in and out, laptops in hand, ready to start their day of work, with each person stopping to say hello to Matt on their way up. Unlike any working environment I've ever known, this space has a real sense of community. From graphic designers, singers, consultants, web developers, translators to writers, this space carries a vibe of collaboration and interest, one of different people, with new ideas and diverse skills, all under one roof.

I soon learn that Matt is one of those people who is out to change the system and the way we work. Studying Management at The University of Hull and then graduating at a time when jobs were few and far between, he gradually built a brand of nightclub events before being appointed as a start-up mentor by a city-wide enterprise support project. Having worked part-time in call centres and data entry positions in the past, he was frustrated by the rigid, controlled, top-down approach of these businesses, motivating him to help start-ups to grow.

A job in a local charity which helped entrepreneurs flourish soon followed a position in Sheffield where he worked as a start-up mentor at Sheffield College.

When Matt first moved to Sheffield, the co-working space was a new phenomenon. Seeing that Sheffield had lots of innovative, interesting people who didn't have anywhere to work, other than to stay at home and keep their ideas to themselves, Matt wanted to change this. So, fascinated by the idea of co-working to transform how we work, Matt went to London to have a look at a couple of spaces there.

He wanted to create a place where entrepreneurs could get advice on their idea that didn't just involve a rigid response of 'here's a business plan template'. He wanted to devise somewhere which would help explore people's ideas in a unique and different way, without a top-down structure. So when Union St office block was free he decided to take it.

More importantly Matt wanted to turn Union St into a place which aims to reflect the values that self-employment can offer. That is, the freedom to be creative and work with whoever and however you want.

With roughly 30 people per day co-working at Union St, all working on their separate projects but bouncing ideas off each other, this place represents the cool, interesting people that come through their doors. It is a place that is truly about the people that work there - you only have to go on their website, which includes a profile on each person that works at Union St, to see that.

As for the pop-up café downstairs, Matt wanted this to represent Sheffield as a city, selling only independent, local produce and allowing start-ups to test their ideas. Monday 31st October saw the launch of their new pop-up café, with BBC Masterchef Quarterfinalist Chris Hale setting the scene with his tasty Asian broths and noodles. This café will run five days a week, with a regular slot from Chris Hale on a Monday and many other independent local start-ups throughout the week.

Sheffield really is a city of independent people with great ideas and Union St represents an insight into the future working world.

 If you are a start-up, sub-contractor or freelancer and want to work somewhere different, check out Union St's website for more information: http://www.union-st.org

If you are looking to start a business, become self-employed or already have a business operating in the city, Business Sheffield are here to help you get your idea off the ground, set up and grow.  Call them on 0114 224 5000 to find out how or visit the Business Sheffield events page and book on to a workshop today.