Some thoughts after last week’s public workshops

We had a great series of conversations about Brixton Works last week. In the past two months we had lots of conversations with people individually (businesses, start-ups, people who support new businesses and other community groups), now was the time to share where we’re at with the project and see what thoughts, ideas and questions people have.

Here’s a few things we learnt

People get why we’re doing this. when the first person in the first workshop – someone who you never met – says “unless someone like the Council steps in there won’t be any affordable workspace left” you know you are onto something. That was the general feeling – people are worried by the trends of ever-more-expensive space they are seeing across London as well as in Brixton. Something that could make a difference locally – in the long term, not just as meanwhile space – matters a lot to people. And the people we spoke with at the workshops also understand that, in order to achieve affordable workspace for the long term, a project like Brixton Works probably needs to operate as an organisation with enough income to invest in future spaces.

No one size fits all. Here’s where it become complex – what people need is incredibly diverse. It’s clear that this cannot just be about laptops in offices – people equally tell us this is about shared kitchens, storage space, shared retail space, messier workshops – but also space to grow your company from 5 to 25 or 45 staff. We hear this again and again: there are lots of gaps in what Brixton currently offers – lots of things that a future Brixton Works could do. That can’t all be achieved at the same time – so Brixton works needs to start somewhere, and then evolve.

This is about collaboration. This is perhaps an obvious point, but let’s think about what it means: there are lots of good local initiatives already working in Brixton to support a fairer and locally rooted economy and to give people opportunities to turn their ideas into business, commercial or not. Working together is important, but our workshop participants also commented that this is easier said than done. So one question is: how could Brixton Works be set up so that it can really work together with others.

Co-investing. It’s a fashionable word, but people give great examples of what this could be. One person said “spaces are expensive because operators think we want them shiny. We don’t – we’d be happy to put in our own time to do them up if that was organised smartly, and if we had security we could stay there for a good time.” Others loved the idea of a Brixton Bond, where people can invest money in something like Brixton Works to help ensure spaces stay affordable in the long term.

Some scepticism. Understandably, there was some scepticism – whether the Council would be able to make this happen given how many other priorities it has (could affordable workspace clash with affordable housing, for example?). That’s why it’s important to emphasise that the aim behind the project is to finance itself after the initial start-up phase to be less dependent on Council financial support.

Finally – a massive ‘last but not least’ – the language we use is an issue. If this is really going to be successful, local people need to know it’s for them and for diverse types of businesses, not just the ‘high-innovation’ ones that many people live talking about. The enterprise start-up scene has lots of lingo that can put some local people off. We were picked up on this on Urban75 as well – and rightly so.

Next stop: 12 March, where we hope to see lots of people to develop some ideas in more detail. Look out for more information soon.

In the meantime – please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below or emailing us on teambrixtonworks@gmail.com

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