Pioneer of one of Europe’s oldest coworking hubs

In the beginning:

My journey into coworking was sparked by a keen awareness of both ‘pains and pleasures’ that make humans tick, and organisations work, and rooted in service to those wanting to make social change happen.

The inspiration for my ‘coworking concepts’ was deeply rooted in my master’s thesis (2002). I researched around the topics of what enhances or hinders the motivation of ‘eco-social activists’. I understood the significant role that a supportive environment and peer network plays in fostering and maintaining motivation and driving social change initiatives. 

At the ‘pain level’, I’d experienced and witnessed individual and organisational instability & vulnerability, caused by the lack of financial resourcing of the non-profit sector. That vulnerability is something the people who work for social change organisations have to live with and navigate. This vulnerability and risk is even more acute if they are the ‘social entrepreneurs’ who develop good ideas into projects, or projects into organisations that eventually become stable. The Nonprofit sector in Scotland is big, diverse and collectively delivers a broad range of services that ‘help society’ – but is not lucrative to work in! 

At the ‘pleasure level’, I understood the need to counter the many motivational and delivery challenges faced by individuals committed to making and working for social change. The goal was to help the sector be more connected & collaborative, effective and efficient.

So I envisioned a new type of shared work-place and members’ club. Through these core concepts I developed one of Europes’ first coworking hubs : The Melting Pot – Scotland’s Centre for Social Innovation. We opened premises in the centre of Edinburgh in 2007, 1 month before the global recession started. I had to explain why we were about being ‘more than an office’ and why sharing space, making connections, building community – was indeed, good for you, your team, and for your business.

Edinburgh is a very expensive place within the UK. There were traditional business centres which were tailored for established and registered charities. But this client bias was to protect their own charitable status and capitalise on rules that excluded paying local property tax. It wasn’t to help the sector – which depends on many freelancers and businesses that are not legally classified as ‘non-profit’. 

There was a glaring gap of affordable workspace provision, let alone anything ‘flexible’, which would help less financially stable organisations, as well as for individuals in the early stages of building new charities or nonprofit organisations. It can literally sometimes take years to become registered as a charity – let alone develop a stable trading / operating base. 

So I envisioned a centrally located (for profile and access) shared resource base that specifically curated the exchange of connections, ideas and knowledge. It was to serve ‘social innovators’ – people working for social impact – no matter what legal status they had. Initially my concept was all about: creating the space, supporting the people and promoting their ideas.

By creating a collaborative work space, we would reduce the impact of limited resources, facilitate connections and collaborations, inspire & promote action, and support a very diverse professional & volunteer based community that is dedicated to social change in Edinburgh (and Scotland). 

Expanding impact and supporting the development of rural coworking:

As a ‘social innovator’ I am dedicated to catalysing meaningful change in communities. I have spent decades in design & delivery of initiatives that make an impact. 

Having been part of the coworking movement from its inception, I strongly believe coworking done well is a tool for local social and economic development. My involvement in European Rural Coworking Projects reflects this belief. 

We can help drive social change by fostering economic distribution of jobs, especially in often overlooked regions. Recognising the challenges faced by small towns, which may not be highly profitable under traditional business models, I have championed the idea of independent hubs deeply integrated into their communities.

So in the pre-pandemic era, as Founder & CEO The Melting Pot, we wanted to support locally owned and community-rooted independent hubs, especially those based in rural areas. We curated resources and services to help people develop their own coworking hubs and communities. These tools were designed to accelerate thinking, streamline operations, and facilitate the development of viable coworking hubs. 

I personally assisted leaders in 5 continents to set up mostly rurally based coworking projects – before the Covid pandemic helped create better market demand for them. 

Avoiding the temptation of creating multiple buildings, my organisation strategically focused on enabling people to work locally instead of commuting to larger urban centres. The crux of this strategy lies in bringing white-collar jobs, service industry roles, and computer-based tasks to rural areas, thereby supporting local businesses and freelancers. For me, rural coworking represents a revolutionary blend of economic and community development, offering a powerful solution to revitalise dormant towns and foster vibrancy where traditional revolutions may fall short.

Post-pandemic living:

In the aftermath of the pandemic, I’ve witnessed a profound transformation in societal dynamics. On one front, there’s an undeniable surge in the demand for community and co-working hubs, a need that has been both accelerated and amplified by the challenges brought on by COVID-19. People now crave the flexibility to work from home while recognising the value of local hubs and dedicated headquarters. This shift, which would likely have taken years to unfold, has been expedited, opening up a dialogue centred on greater choice to personal work preferences.

Simultaneously, I’ve observed a subtle but discernible shift towards individual survival concerns post-COVID. These are uncertain and strained times. There seems to be a heightened focus on self-preservation, rooted in the fundamental need for personal well-being. 

I firmly believe in the power of community building for meaningful social impact. While acknowledging the current trend towards individualism, it is an enduring truth that significant societal changes can only be achieved through collective efforts. 

The coworking hub, in my perspective, stands as a testament to this communal spirit, offering a rich tapestry of diverse connections that not only elevate professional profiles, but also contribute significantly to overall well-being. As we navigate the complexities of a post-pandemic society, I advocate for finding a delicate balance between self-care and collective contribution. Giving back isn’t merely an act of altruism, but a profound way to enrich our own sense of purpose and well-being.

How to benefit form Claire’s expertise:

Should you seek personalised guidance, in the form of mentoring, training or consultancy in Coworking; or if you are in need of executive coaching, I am here to assist you on your journey. 

Through Claire Carpenter Coaching, I offer bespoke support to placemakers, entrepreneurs, leaders & individuals. My goal is to contribute to the success of your endeavours, helping you navigate the complexities of establishing and sustaining a thriving coworking hub, whilst looking after yourself, your team and your business.

You can follow or connect with me here: LinkedIn Instagram

Mapping out Rural Coworking Hubs in Europe:

Post Covid, and with the rise in mobile and remote working, there is an opportunity to attract new customers to rurally based coworking hubs. 

Following a similar exercise that I lead in Scotland, I will be seeking to research and map out Rural coworking hubs across Europe. An simple online map will be made, searchable according to the type of facility and types of leisure hobbies found in the area. 

For example, as an avid climber – where might I easily base myself for an extended climbing trip and get some work done…?

During 2024/5 I will be travelling extensively in Europe (and further afield) in a campervan. Please do get in touch if you’d like to show me your amazing rural hub, participate in the research map, or meet up in person for any service I provide 

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