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Space4 Impact: 1 year building London’s home for digital co-operatives

24 Sep 2018

Space4 is one year into its mission, and we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved so far. We’ve built a London home for CoTech, the UK-wide network of digital worker co-ops, and many other tech activists to collaborate. We’ve been hosting events that are showcasing inspiring projects and generating ideas for how to harness tech to solve big societal issues.

In the coming year, we want to have more impact by improving and formalising our business support offer to co-op start-ups, hosting more events with diverse speakers and audiences, and finding ways for all the smart people using the space to work with key institutions to tackle some of the UK’s big problems. However, we could do so much more with support and funding from NESTA, the government, trade unions and the consumer co-op movement.

How did it all begin?

A little over a year ago I was having a jolly old time living in Portugal. I’d recently completed an EU-funded placement at Village Underground, Lisbon’s (literally) hot and groovy co-working boxpark. One sundrenched evening I received a call from my big brother, Harry. He had a big idea.

Harry wanted to combine his expertise in technology, and my background in events and community building, to create a space that would help Outlandish, and by association CoTech, take over the world and revolutionise the digital sector.  

I was to return to London without further ado. Anyone with an older brother, or who knows Harry, will realise that I didn’t have much ammo to fight back with, and anyway, I was curious.

After a rush to get some colour on the walls (and remove the creepy shower that the former occupants had left in the middle of the office) we had our soft launch on July 20th 2017. Obviously I’d been to Outlandish parties in the past, but this felt different, and I met loads of engaging new people. I was pretty excited to get going.

So what have we achieved in year one?

Events and publicity

We opened Space4 with no name, let alone a ‘brand’, a fairly vague plan (raise the profile of Outlandish, bring in commercial work, revolutionise the tech sector), very little prep time, one member of staff, and no external funding. Considering all that we’ve done pretty well.

The first months were pretty lonely and I’m hugely grateful to James (Lazy Atom), CAST, Go Free Range, Open Data Services, the ever-wonderful Animorph and others who came on board early on and stuck out the tumbleweed days.

Things really got going when we had our proper launch party in October. We had an incredible bill of quick-fire speakers, including Asima Shaikh, our local co-op loving Labour councillor, Ali Torabi from the TUC, Anisah Osman Britto from 23 Code Street and Alice Casey from Nesta, to name just a few.

This really was a gathering of great minds and groundbreaking projects, focussing on everything tech-activist, including diversity in the sector, to shaking up unions, to growing the co-op movement. There was a lot of good will in the room that night, and we could see and hear how having a new physical space for people to meet and gather to grow the co-operative digital economy had wide appeal.

Since then, we’ve had more than 600 individual people attend events at Space4. Just a few of my favourite events (not including the parties of course!) have been:

  • Games for the Many hack, opened by John McDonnell MP
  • Public Procurement Data Hack with Open Contracting Partnership
  • Mapping for Political and Social Change, showcasing hyper-local as well as global data mapping projects
  • Building Co-Operative Communities, which brought people from across the co-op spectrum
  • VR and AR for social good, where we demoed a bunch of cool applications and headsets

 

Another highlight was when Jeremy Corbyn came for lunch. It gave a boost to people working here to have the man of the moment take an interest in their projects. Off the back of this Jeremy mentioned Outlandish in his Building a Co-operative Economy speech the following day, and I was invited to speak at a regional Labour Party conference about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (err…the what?). From Jez, to John McDonnell, to our local councillor and massive advocate Asima Shaikh, it’s been very heartening to have a parliamentary party not just talk bollocks about ‘innovation’, but actually start listening to groups who are on the ground playing around with new technologies and new ways of organising.Space4 activities have resulted in a lot more press for Outlandish, CoTech and the co-op movement more generally. Hazel Sheffield, amazing journalist who specialises in co-ops picked up on CoTech after hearing about Space4 and has been an advocate ever since, publiching articles about CoTech members in the Guardian and The Times. We’ve also been shortlisted as runner up for CoWorking space of the Year by IPSE. Since one of the aims of Space4 was to raise the profile of Outlandish and CoTech, this certainly seems to be an indication that something is working.

 

Coworking and developing co-ops

In terms of coworking, it’s great to see CoTech members come here to work or meet. The physical space has limited use for those outside of London, but they have a home-from-home if ever they’re in town. And as well as CoTech there are a whole bunch of amazing people working here, many of whom pay what they can so that their projects have a better chance of getting off the ground, or who volunteer their time and expertise to the space.

Incubating new tech co-ops and collaborations

A big turning point was when fellow CoTech members Founders and Coders left their cramped-if-familiar surroundings in Bethnal Green and moved in, turning our event space into a classroom on weekdays to train cohorts of 16 to become junior developers. The space was transformed and it’s a pleasure to have the buzz of so many enthusiastic people around. They also help to support the local community by providing free sessions to help people get a taste for coding.

Since being in the shared space amongst other co-ops and techies, Founders and Coders has grown its network of collaborators, and students have gained knowledge of the alternative tech sector and the opportunities open to them. We’re often sending small projects their way, particularly now they’ve launched their Tech For Better MVP development programme.

Space4 has also had some great successes in developing new cooperatives. InFact, who arrived having recently finished the FAC course and decided to set up their very own web development co-op. Being here has helped them meet more people who’ve travelled that path to share their expertise, and also we’re now sending them work that Outlandish can’t do.

We have also celebrated the arrival of Sleuth, who are working out ways that new technology can make the public sector more productive and innovative (and some of their members met for the first time at our party!); Digital Liberties who take a playful approach to getting new innovative ideas into the Labour Party; even Animorph were nudged into full co-op status with our helping hand. Helping young co-ops launch is something that we’d like to do a lot more of. Helping to launch these co-ops and support them to grow is making a little dent in Labour’s promise to grown the co-operative economy.

What’s next?

We’ve invested around £25k into Space4, which is a lot for a small co-op of 8 members. In the coming year, we can do significantly more, but we’ll need some help. We’re ticking boxes on behalf of Co-operatives UK, the Labour Party, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the GLA, Nesta, DCMS, to name but a few. We think our impact could be much more impressive if we had partners on board to help us out with cash, publicity and strategic growth.

In 2019 we want to be fostering more new co-ops and supporting the existing co-operative sector, building greater collaborations and introducing more diversity into tech. We want to be working with partners who share our vision to leverage tech to bring about a more inclusive and fairer society. If this is you, reach out to us today at space4@outlandish.com

 

Thanks to resident Romain at Soda Visual for the photos.