There’s no doubt that office and coworking spaces have taken a massive hit over the last year, but thankfully most remain open and provide inspiring and stylish spaces to work for freelancers.

Our new series reviews the best coworking spaces across the UK and first up, we spoke to Alex Campbell, Founder of Colony in Manchester which has three stunning sites in the city centre.

Tell us a bit about the business. 

Time flies when you’re having fun.

I can’t believe it’s been just over three years since we started Colony. It feels like yesterday that we opened our first venue in Ancoats in 2017. Like most start-ups, it was somewhat of an experiment. We knew that we wanted to establish a community of like-minded freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses and see if we could provide a space in which the members of that community could collaborate, thrive and see their businesses flourish.

With no prior experience, we picked up a tape measure, put pencil to paper and set about designing playful spaces that we felt on instinct would satisfy a freelancer’s requirement for networking, productivity and inspiration. A key challenge for us was to fulfil these needs while providing a professional environment that freelancers would be happy to present themselves from. A few months later, with the space complete, we opened and got word out across social media and we were pleased to see there was a lot of interest from people looking for something like this.

 

Our community started to take shape and within 6 months we had reached capacity. We then began to look towards expanding the network across the city. Since then we have welcomed two further venues to the Colony fold; Colony Piccadilly and Colony The Astley on The Northern Quarter / Ancoats border. As the network continues to grow, so too do the opportunities for the members within.

 

 

How does Colony cater for freelancers?

Being a freelancer is challenging. It is a way of life that requires creativity, courage, focus and drive. Coming from creative backgrounds ourselves, we at Colony know and understand this. We have used our previous experience of working in the creative industries to provide a range of purpose-built amenities for freelancers to do their best, most creative work. Focus areas, collaboration zones, phone booths, meeting rooms, printing facilities, reception staff, business address and mail handling, social events, all available within their chosen Colony venue.

Each venue has a different style and aesthetic, and Colony Members have access to all three so that new inspiration and productivity is always close at hand! Freelancers across the Colony Community find opportunity to meet other freelancers and businesses (either within the venues or via our online portal) and as we have witnessed time and time again, this leads to new business relationships and exciting creative partnerships for our co-workers.

 

 

How has Covid affected your business?

It is difficult to talk about the previous 12 months without mentioning the ‘c’-word. We can all agree that this year would have been a lot smoother without the C*vid pandemic. However, as our work and social lives have changed in line with lockdowns and other covid safety measures, the pandemic has allowed Colony to look at the way we do things differently and we have adapted accordingly. As a business, this period of rapid adaptation has been extremely challenging and difficult, but has also provided a useful change of perspective. These forced changes of perspective are to be welcomed and embraced, regardless of the cause. It isn’t productive to dwell on the negative impacts of the situation, instead it is to be seen as an opportunity to gain new insights, and develop new ways to improve and enhance what we are offering our customers.

 

 

How have you been able to develop and change during the pandemic for the Colony Community?

Having discussed the impact of the pandemic with many of the freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses within the Colony Community, the resounding requirement for people at the moment is flexibility. More than ever people need to be able to change their schedules at short notice. As a result, we have decided to increase the level of flexibility that we offer. Giving our members the option to now pause their coworking memberships for a month at any time means they don’t have to worry about any possible unexpected change of plan.

Our pausable memberships have been especially welcomed by freelancers because it also allows them to pause a portion of their overheads when taking unpaid holidays.

 

Our spaces have changed too. We are fully committed to providing safe workplaces and further to implementing a plethora of covid safety measures, we have also reworked and refined layouts to ensure necessary social distancing. We have also limited our capacity, as a result increasing the amount of space that each member has at their work position. The recent prevalence of zoom calls within the business community is evident too, and we have installed additional phone booths to provide extra private space for those who need it.

The Colony community is outward looking. It stretches way beyond the walls of Colony and it is open to all. We are enthused by the creativity which is evident in all corners of the City. We have a proud and rich history of involvement and promotion of cultural & social events, art & photography exhibitions, debates and discussions, through which we have had the privilege of welcoming non-Colony Members into the community. Our events schedule has been paused for covid safety reasons, but we have continued to work with artists where possible and are currently exhibiting the work of local artist Greg Meade at our Piccadilly venue, we recommend you drop by and have a look as soon as you get a chance – lockdown restrictions permitting!

 

(photo: Pechakucha at Colony Jactin House, photo credit: Fiona Finchett)

We have also done our best to continue to support our cousins in the hospitality industry during these difficult times. Championing local establishments such as Nell’s Pizza, Gooey, Bondi Bowls, Trove and Burgerism to name a few, who all have great stories to tell of their entrepreneurial spirit during this difficult time (you can read their stories and experiences on the Colony Blog here).

 

How do you feel about the future of coworking?

I am excited about the future of coworking.

There is no doubt that peoples’ work habits have changed for the long term. There are more people working from home than ever before and there are so many positives to come from this (more flexible work patterns, less congestion, better for the environment etc). I don’t think that we will see a return to the pre-covid nine-to-five work commute. With a less predictable approach to the working day comes a requirement for greater flexibility in the workplace, something that Colony easily caters for. By offering a range of options from long term to short term memberships, single day passes or meeting room bookings,  Colony has always challenged the traditional approach to office space and we will continue to transform the workplace for the better. We will shape it alongside the evolving needs of the coworking community. Colony is listening to the community and we will develop our offering with an informed understanding of what freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses really need and want from a workplace.

Everything we have learnt over the past 3 years will be worked into our upcoming 4th location coming Autumn 2021. The way we are configuring this new location, which will be our largest space yet, will be appropriated to the post-pandemic world, new working habits and demands.

 

We know that this is a difficult time for freelancers, and we’re keen for the community to kick start their productivity in 2021. We would therefore like to give away a free day pass to any freelancers reading this. Further to this, followers of The Freelance Kit will receive a 20% discount off any Colony membership taken before April 2021! Simply get in touch (info@colonyco.work) and quote ‘The Freelance Kit’ and we will gladly arrange.

Our doors are open and our community is looking forward to welcoming you…

Email: info@colonyco.work

Website: www.colonyco.work

Twitter: @ColonyCoWork

Instagram: @Colonycowork

 

About The Freelance Kit

The Freelance Kit offers unique digital products, support and community for freelancers, including a 150 page high-quality and beautifully designed template kit. 

Inside the digital kit, you’ll find templates, planners and spreadsheets for every aspect of freelance life including a 15-page contract worth £300, financial planning documents, social media planning templates and ideas for content, blog topic ideas and much more. 

Along with digital products, The Freelance Kit has a private community and a soon to launch membership option. The platform was created by experts to help freelancers thrive and our hope is that the products and support will empower you to succeed, and help make your freelance life that bit easier.

You can find our 2021 guide with 45 tools and tips for working from home and managing your freelance business in a handy FREE downloadable PDF HERE. We also have a FREE private members group where you can find support and guidance from an established freelance community, join HERE

 

SHOP