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While there are many examples of how to implement coworking in urban centres, the question of how to integrate it in a rural setting gets many people scratching their heads. Its a topic that came up during a breakout session of our latest cowroking event. While urban coworking spaces place an emphasis on creating a community and providing networking opportunities, smaller towns already have those communities - so what’s the purpose of a coworking space in that scenario?
Should coworking spaces be run voluntarily if they spread more into rural areas?
“There’s a government push for more community voluntary run locations (in Ireland). And I think that’s, at least that’s the challenge that I’m trying to get my head around at the moment. How does an organization, an operation, like that work, in effect?
“I think that’s the big gap that we have. How do we get someone that actually works on a voluntary basis? I don’t know if anybody else has had experience with that kind of thing.
“Basically it’s looking at community spaces, vacant potential community spaces across rural areas that can be used to maybe put in high speed, quality broadband and desks and facilities for local people in more rural parts of the country to be able to utilize and use rather than having to travel to cities or bigger towns.
“That’s slightly different. It is more voluntary, that could be from local football clubs or different types of locations that are willing to collaborate. But it presents different challenges as opposed to more larger professionally run hubs.”
“I think the big thing though, is to make sure voluntary or not that government, local community hubs, local kind of chambers of commerce that people are aligned and connected in some way in terms of how they work so that nobody’s reinventing the wheel, or are trying to do something in the community when there’s already a small hub, maybe around the corner, that they did not know about.
“This kind of lack of communication and connectivity can be a major barrier to real, proper local development in community. So, I think the challenge for myself and people like X and lots of us is to make sure that we’re aware of what’s going on and offer supports and collaboration and help”
An example from Scotland
“We opened a co working place in 2005 and we’ve been working with the social innovation community in Edinburgh and around Scotland for the last, well, 15 years.
“One of the things that we’re doing, I’m just speaking to some of the points that have been raised, is working with voluntary organizations. So, third sector organizations to create coworking hubs in their local community. I’ve been evangelizing about let’s get coworking into rural smaller towns, secondary towns, commuter towns for years, and the Scottish government invested in us to help share our knowledge and expertise with other people.
“And all of that information and services and products is available on our coworkingaccelerator.network websites. But we’ve got stories of people opening coworking hubs in small, rural secondary towns all over the world that we’ve been helping. I think the issue that they’ve got at the moment is just numbers of bums on seats. And when are the bums going to come back onto the seats and how long is their lifeline? Because most of us know the bigger the space you’ve got, the more money you can earn, maybe the more rent that you pay. Lots of voluntary organizations have taken on community assets, are living in Scotland. So there’s lots of that going on around the place, taking on very large properties for a voluntary organization as a community asset, but how can they afford to keep them going when, well certainly in Scotland, we’re not even open for business yet.”
“I think that one of the things we see in coworking, there is a definite break. It’s been a subject of conversation for a long time. There’s a break in coworking, how you approach coworking in any town under 50,000 people, and in any town above 50,000 people. Above 50,000 people, honestly the model is pretty clear. It’s fairly straightforward and it’s not that difficult.
“Under 50,000, you’re talking about custom work. You’re talking about a very different kettle of fish. It can be done. I’m presently in a conversation with some people about… they want to open a coworking space in an old cloister, like a 14th century cloister, which I’m extremely excited about if it goes there, but the town around it has pretty much been subject to quite a lot of what the Dutch called cramp, which is that everyone’s moved away. I think the town around it is not 2000.
“I find that the key in small places is really to find out… The thing about small towns under 50,000 is that both communities and micro-communities already exist. So the idea that you’re going to build a community in your coworking space is an entire waste of your time and really has unfortunate overtones of colonialism and I’m not going there. I don’t dare.
“Those people have their communities, they’ve had them for a long time, pretty often what they want out of coworking spaces is to get out of them, to get away from them, because there’s something lovely and cozy about a community where everybody’s known you since you were a kid, but there’s also a downside to that.
“The smaller communities you have to find out, you have to know what the communities are that are there and what it is that they need, and then you serve them. I really think one of the things I say a lot is, you have to know who you are, you have to know who you’re for, why are you there, and you have to know what those people sort of want and need and get it to them.”
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This summary is from an event was part of the NGI Forward project Generation Internet (NGI) initiative, launched by the European Commission in the autumn of 2016. It received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 825652 from 2019-2021.