A few months ago, the future of co-working spaces looked in doubt. The cautionary tale of WeWork’s hubris — breakneck growth followed by near-collapse — was followed by a global pandemic that has kept office workers in their homes. Now, though, a new co-working model is emerging. And it’s probably happening on a high street, or in a hotel lobby, near you.
The Arc Club is typical of these new “hyperlocal” spaces. Based in a retail space below a housing development, it is a carefully designed but simple space in Homerton, east London, offering a cheaper “work near home” option for freelancers, the self-employed and, since the pandemic, corporate staff who are bored with working from their bedrooms and kitchens. Hannah Philp, its 35-year-old co-founder, came up with the idea while working in financial services. Her commute across the city was a nightmare, “but I didn’t want to work from home because I lived alone and it just wasn’t appealing”.
She wanted to create something affordable that filled this gap, while also serving the wider community and using hard to let retail space — something Ms Philp hopes to replicate at similar locations in other parts of London. One user, a female tech worker who lives on her own in east London, says she likes the Arc because she found living and working at home “really hard”, especially since her job had involved a lot of travel. In the end, “even the smell of my flat was annoying me”. “I just got really lonely,” she adds.
Going to the Arc is not only a shorter commute — a 20-minute cycle, rather than a 30-minute Tube ride to central London — but “it has definitely made me more productive. The space is really light and bright”, she says. “Just having people around you as well, is more motivating.” She also feels the sense of community that Ms Philp is seeking to cultivate. “Everyone I have spoken to lives in the area,” she adds, while there is also a diverse mix of people across different industries.
The development above the site is predominantly social housing and Ms Philp has ensured residents feel welcome. “We’ve made an effort to get to know our neighbours and they can come in and get takeaway or come and sit here in the café.” The Arc is also providing out of hours space to local organisations, such as charities and community groups. The Arc was designed by Ms Philp’s co-founder Caro Lundin, whose concept allows a space to be fitted out within weeks and includes modular private meeting rooms that can be moved around.
The Arc was due to launch earlier this year, but the finished fitout was delayed by the lockdown. As it turned out, this allowed Ms Philp and Ms Lundin to reconfigure the space to meet Covid-19 guidelines — although Ms Lundin was stuck in her native Sweden during lockdown and was managing everything over Zoom. (She has since moved there permanently and returns to London once a month.) Ms Philp adds that the Arc is a different proposition to flexible co-working providers such as WeWork, whose sites are generally spread across central locations in large (sometimes listed) buildings that undergo major fitouts.