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10 years to grow the digital co-op movement

06 Sep 2019

We’re chuffed to announce that we’ve been appointed to manage a new affordable tech workspace in Finsbury Park. This 10-year contract has been awarded to Outlandish by Islington Council, in order for us to continue and extend the amazing work we’ve been doing with SPACE4. 

The new space is located just up the road, at 113-115 Fonthill Road. It’s a little bit bigger, and quite a lot glitzier than our premises at number 149 (a.k.a Outlandish Towers). For the time being, we’ll be keeping all of our offices, so this is an expansion rather than a relocation. 

A home for co-ops

SPACE4 is home to quite a few CoTech co-ops, and home-from-home for others. We hosted a 2 day hack last year where reps from most of the network came and spent 2 days improving our website, building a skills map, setting our goals and messaging and much more. We’ll be developing ways of making SPACE4 more useful for those in the network who don’t physically use it all that much, by improving our digital presence so that training is remotely accessible, and coordinating funded or commercial projects that involve multiple co-ops. 

We’ve already nurtured 6 new tech coops (Animorph, InFact, Sleuth, Good Praxis, Yalla and Common Knowledge) and we plan to do a lot more of this. Collectively we’re coming up with innovative ways to overcome the barriers to starting a successful co-op, such as raising finance, understanding HR and governance. Coops UK hope to see a five-fold expansion of worker ownership over the next decade, and projects like SPACE4, with some support, can help realise that aim. 

Events and Training

We’ll be redoubling our efforts to plug the digital skills gap. Over the last two years we’ve hosted various training sessions, and fostered a culture of peer-to-peer skills exchange. We’re entering this new phase hand-in-hand with Founders and Coders, who’ve been running their bootcamp from the space for 18 months. Together we’re identifying digital training needs in the local community, and leveraging the skills in our community to fill these. 

We’ve just launched a programme of basic free training every lunchtime, and are hoping to attract partners to the new space who can bring their own networks and specialisms to the mix. We’ve given 5 local school pupils work experience this year, where they shadow not only Outlandish and SPACE4, but benefit from working with a whole range of people in the space. We hope to extend the opportunities we can offer to young people interested in a career in ethical technology.

You can look forward to lots more events over the coming years. We’ve already hosted more than 50, with around 1000 unique attendees, and a whole load of amazing speakers and topics. We’re always on the hunt for people and networks who want to speak, or to run their own series of events here, whether they’re talks, workshops, hacks or something different. 

Community Wealth Building

We’ve been given this opportunity by Islington as part of their Community Wealth Building agenda. Inspired by CLES, and its work with the cities of Manchester and Preston, Islington Council is blazing a trail, leveraging its resources, assets and budgets to stimulate sustainable economic growth in the borough that supports the whole community. We were really delighted to have our local MP Jeremy Corbyn join us, alongside a delegation from Preston, to the pre-launch of the space. 

As part of this new project, we’ll be making efforts to keep money circulating in the local, ethical economy, rather than letting it flow out of the borough to large corporations, and ultimately to shareholders and tax havens. This means we’ll be trying to signpost clients to procure digital services from our community of tech co-ops, funnelling more money into the local co-operative economy. 

We’re planning to launch an accelerator in January 2020 to support businesses to grow their local economic impact, and to run hack days that develop tools to measure your supply chain and boost positive spending. 

The challenges

A big challenge over the coming years will be to diversify SPACE4’s income streams and grow our turnover. Though our rent will be paid by Islington, there are still business rates, bills, staff time and operating costs and it all adds up. We break even from desk sales and room hire, but there’s not much wiggle room, particularly since we operate a pay-what-you-can model which we plan to stick to. 

We envision a future where SPACE4 generates additional income from consultancy, brokering joint bids within the network, commercial referrals, grants, and much more. We also hope to grow our impact via new partnerships with like-minded organisations, who can use the space and tap into our network to deliver their mission. We’re even looking into different models for SPACE4 to spin off as it’s own legal entity, with Outlandish and the other users being stakeholders. 

Get involved

When we first launched SPACE4 back in 2017 there were a lot of unknowns. This new chapter is also a little daunting, but with a bit of help from our friends we’re confident that we can make big waves. We really hope that you will join us on this journey. If you can help us meet any of our objectives, we’d love to hear from you. 

Please engage with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook; come and hire a desk, or sponsor one so that we can continue to offer discounted rates to those who are finding their feet; let people know about our events and workshops and come along yourself; or come and host your own event here. If you’re passionate about this sector please come and share your ideas with us about growing and diversifying our income in innovative ways. Get in touch with Polly or Maddy on space4@outlandish.com. We look forward to hearing from you.