A new network of coworking spaces in public libraries is supporting Scotland’s next generation of entrepreneurs and start-up companies.
The Scottish Coworking Network was launched in February this year by the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) with Scottish Government funding and has proved a hit with local small businesses and self-employed people.
Five hubs are currently open at Dunfermline Carnegie Library, Edinburgh Central Library, Troon Library, Inverness Library and Dundee Central Library. Their combined membership includes a variety of small businesses, from illustrators, graphic designers and language translation experts to architects, software designers and technology companies using artificial intelligence.
Each hub offers a mix of fixed desks and hot desks and access to meeting space, online resources, a programme of professional development workshops and events and an online forum to encourage networking and collaboration.
The project has been driven by Scotland’s national public library strategy, Ambition and Opportunity, which reinforces the role public libraries play in supporting employability, entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.
Pamela Tulloch, chief executive at SLIC explains: “Scotland’s public libraries offer the perfect environment to support aspiring entrepreneurs. Libraries are located at the heart of communities, they are connected, and offer an abundance of information and resources. The hubs offer equal access to a support structure that will help people turn their passions and ideas into sustainable employment. They are ideal for small sole traders and those who are currently running a small business from their kitchen table or a spare bedroom and are ready to take the next step.
“The response from local small business owners has been very encouraging. In Edinburgh, fixed desk space sold out within a few weeks of opening. New hub members are telling us that the community environment is fuelling their creativity and access to hub resources is invaluable for them when building their businesses.”
One of the first hub members is Data by Design, a data graphic company which specialises in designing compelling reports and infographics. Managing director, Phil Taylor is a member at the hub in Dunfermline.
Phil said: “I have a hot desk which suits the way I work. Data by Design has been going for around two and half years and I needed somewhere which offered flexibility but could also meet my core business needs. I like to mix and match the way I work, and the hub lets me do that, spending some time at the hub, some time at home, time in meetings or in a local coffee shop. I’m hoping that, as more people join, the hub becomes even more of a creative, collaborative environment.”
Helen Bleck is a freelance editor and proofreader and is a member at the Edinburgh Central Library hub, where she uses the space two days a week.
Helen said: “It is really affordable, and the atmosphere is industrious without being completely silent. Being among other people who are trying to build their own business really appealed to me.”
Scotia Arts, which organises international musical arts events, started using the hub in Troon just over a month ago and is already feeling the benefits.
As well as saving money on expensive rates, the company is taking advantage of the hub’s modern office facilities and business events. The location is also proving to be an excellent base for the fledgling business.
Scotia Arts managing director, Blair Parham, explained: “The hub is in a great location and ideal for meeting with people. I was in an accelerator programme based in a nearby village, but it was too far out of town really. ‘Graduating’ from it and moving to the centre of Troon is so much better for transport links, like the train, and for shops and cafes. It can be lonely being a start-up company and this gives us the ability to meet with other people and share ideas.
“I did work from home for a few months, and it was ok. but you’re by yourself with nobody to talk to. After taking on my first member of staff earlier in the year I needed more space; at the hub we have two fixed desks and we’re there most days. Cost was a big pull as it really isn’t expensive – we have everything here at a really good price, which makes it an excellent choice for a start-up.”
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland supports the initiative. Their regional development manager Gordon Henderson said: “Like smaller businesses, libraries are at the heart of their local communities. FSB is pleased to support this initiative to bring footfall to our town centres while offering a workspace for business owners and the self-employed. We need to encourage more enterprises into the centre of our local places and this project does just that.”
Pamela Tulloch added: “Libraries remain to be Scotland’s most popular civic resource with over 40 million visits each year. Projects like the coworking network are helping to ensure libraries remain relevant and are a clear demonstration of the changing role of public libraries and how services are transforming to ensure they meet the needs of modern communities.”
The Scottish Coworking Network has the backing of a range of organisations, including Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Institute of Enterprise, Creative Scotland, Carnegie UK Trust, Young Enterprise Scotland, Business Gateway, Scottish Towns Partnership and the Federation of Small Businesses.
More information on the SCN, including membership rates, can be found online at www.scottishcoworking.org