Suzanne Murdock: Rural Coworking and Creating Connections 

Originally from the quaint town of Epsom near London, I moved to Northern Ireland in 2009 with my husband and son. Relationships have always been at the heart of my journey, having held various client-facing roles in corporate banking, property, and later, in the world of coworking and Flex sector. 

In 2012, I embarked on an exciting adventure, establishing The Hub Newry, a network of coworking & flex spaces that organically developed, reflecting my dedication to fostering collaborative work environments. Beyond this endeavour, I wear multiple hats – from hosting a podcast to offering coaching and mentoring services.

As a certified coach and mentor, I specialise in guiding SME business leaders and commercial property owners through the transitional journey of flexible and hybrid workplaces. My focus? Championing regional working, enhancing workplace experiences, and nurturing a sense of fulfilment, purpose, strengths & confidence among teams.

Before going further, let’s take a moment to distinguish between the flex sector and coworking. Flex spaces, although not your traditional coworking setup, draw inspiration from the coworking business model. They share similarities in generating revenue through services, amenities, and space access. However, often they cater to a distinct clientele and offer  more office environments rather than open plan desk & coworking setups but still with a community feel.

While coworking spaces cater to a variety of professionals such as remote or hybrid employees, freelancers, entrepreneurs, and expats, flex spaces tend to attract more corporate remote workers & teams as well as local businesses. It’s all about tailoring the environment to suit specific needs and preferences. 

Coworking and connection

My journey into coworking started from a need within myself for a sense of community and belonging. Over the past 12 years, I’ve watched our coworking spaces evolve from simple open-plan spaces to hybrid open and private spaces that accommodate the diverse needs of our growing community. For me, community is everything. Reflecting on my past experiences in corporate banking and the property sector, I realise I didn’t truly know myself in those environments. I often felt burnt out and disconnected, struggling to find my place. Embracing the coworking and flexible work movement was transformative. 

It allowed me to rediscover my purpose. Building relationships, fostering inclusivity, and creating a sense of belonging became my driving force. Today, engaging in conversations with fellow changemakers like Bernie and Jeannine, I continue to shape the narrative of coworking and community, driven by my passion for empowering individuals to thrive in supportive and collaborative environments.

The Hub Newry

The Hub Newry is nestled in the heart of Newry, Northern Ireland, right on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, conveniently located an hour away from Dublin and Belfast. Our community is incredibly diverse, reflective of the vibrant blend of backgrounds and professions in our area. We boast a balanced mix of corporate professionals and local freelancers, as well as small, medium, and micro-businesses, all working alongside one another. 

What sets us apart is our focus on relationships. From the moment someone joins our community, we prioritise understanding their unique personalities and business needs. It’s not just about providing top-notch infrastructure; it’s about promoting inclusivity and nurturing relationships within our spaces. We believe in creating environments where everyone feels valued, enabling them to thrive.

Rural Coworking

Rural coworking in Newry has been an exciting journey, especially when you consider its transition to city status back in 2002. While Newry itself may be classified as a small city, with a population of around 28,000 people recorded in 2021, it encompasses a vast area with numerous rural regions. When we first started setting up coworking spaces in 2012, the concept was relatively unknown in our area. 

It took considerable effort to spread awareness and educate the community about the benefits of coworking. Over the years, we’ve seen a gradual shift in perception, with more individuals and businesses embracing the idea of collaborative workspaces outside of traditional urban centres. 

There are some challenges

In the world of coworking, we encounter a variety of challenges that require thoughtful consideration and adaptation. Not everyone is suited to the coworking environment, and it’s essential to recognise and respect individual preferences and needs. One common challenge is dispelling misconceptions about coworking, particularly the notion that it’s solely about open-plan spaces and constant noise, which can deter introverts or those seeking quieter work environments. It’s crucial to communicate the diverse opportunities available within coworking, catering to different working styles and preferences. Understanding the unique needs of our members is paramount. 

Coworking is inherently people-centric, where the focus goes beyond just the physical space to encompass the individual needs and preferences of our diverse community. While some coworking spaces may cater to specific demographics or niches, fostering a diverse and inclusive environment where everyone can thrive remains a core objective. By embracing these challenges and adapting our approach accordingly, we can create coworking spaces that truly cater to the needs of all members, fostering collaboration, growth, and community spirit.

Some great partnerships

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of engaging with numerous partners and various operators across Ireland, fostering a collaborative environment that enriches our coworking community. Through panel talks at events like the European Coworking Assembly (ECA) and other conferences in the UK, I’ve created valuable connections and contributed to educational advocacy efforts. 

These partnerships have been instrumental in our growth over the past 13 years, allowing us to witness the transformative evolution of the coworking movement. We’ve seen a remarkable shift in recognising the indispensable role of human interaction, which must be harmonised with a robust infrastructure. For me, coworking is inherently community-centric, and without fostering that sense of connection, the essence of coworking is lost. It’s about nurturing collaboration, diversity, and endless possibilities, benefiting both individuals and businesses within our industry.

A Vision

My vision for the Rural Coworking Project, driven by the European Coworking Assembly is centred around expanding awareness and extending our geographical reach, harnessing the collective power of our community. Together, we can raise awareness about coworking as both a movement and a sector, reaching individuals with diverse skill sets and backgrounds. Education and advocacy are key components of our impact, offering growth opportunities to individuals while fostering inclusivity and diversity within our spaces. One of the most rewarding aspects is our ability to connect rural communities, bridging geographical gaps and providing access to projects and collaborations that would otherwise be out of reach. Through initiatives like the rural coworking project, we highlight accessibility and inclusiveness, amplifying the importance of diversity and its impact within our network of our partnerships and endeavours. 

By highlighting the invaluable work of the ECA, we not only bring attention to these vital projects but showcase the significance of our partnerships and collaborations. Whether it’s advocating for accessibility, inclusiveness, or diversity, our efforts magnify the positive impact of coworking on both individuals and communities. Through strategic alliances and joint endeavours, we elevate these initiatives, ensuring they receive the recognition and support they deserve. Together, we amplify our collective voice, driving awareness and engagement, and ultimately, empowering individuals and communities to thrive in coworking spaces across Europe and beyond.

Hopes and dreams

My hopes and dreams for rural coworking extend beyond just creating physical spaces; my main dream is to create a sense of true belonging and empowerment for individuals within these communities. It’s about providing a platform where every voice is valued, and where individuals can express themselves confidently and authentically without fear of judgement. From a workplace perspective, it’s about offering the flexibility to choose where one works, recognising that different environments suit different needs and personalities. This isn’t about entitlement, but rather about empowering people to make the choices that best support their growth and productivity. 

Employers play a crucial role here too, by embracing the idea of offering coworking spaces as an option alongside remote work, providing employees with the autonomy to decide what environment best suits their responsibilities and preferences. Ultimately, it boils down to celebrating individuality and catering to the diverse needs and personalities that make up our communities.

The importance of independent coworking spaces

As a final word,  I want to emphasise the invaluable contributions of regional independent coworking spaces, which often operate with limited resources yet play a vital role in their local communities. These spaces, despite facing financial constraints and sometimes having to juggle other businesses to stay afloat, remain steadfast in their commitment to serving both local businesses, and freelancers as well as corporate and micro-businesses alike. As someone situated on the border, I’ve witnessed how these spaces bridge the gap between different sectors, understanding and meeting the diverse needs of their members. 

It’s essential to shine a spotlight on these independent spaces, highlighting their dedication and the significant impact they have on fostering community collaboration and economic growth. While larger branded spaces certainly have their place, it’s crucial not to overlook the unique value and essential services provided by these regional independents. By raising awareness and giving recognition to these unsung heroes of the coworking movement, we can ensure that all coworking spaces, regardless of size or branding, receive the appreciation and support they deserve.

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