Coworking spaces are cropping up across town as office units see a decline in uptake

WORKING TOGETHER: Coworking at OfficeTribe

A DEMAND for flexible coworking spaces in Tunbridge Wells is fuelling the demise of office rental units, with traditional office spaces seeing a decline in uptake and converting back into residential property.

Earlier this month, permission was granted to convert an office building in Lonsdale Gardens into four two-bedroom dwellings, while developers are awaiting approval for Longford House on Mount Ephraim to be changed from office space to residential use.

Zenith International Investments, owners of Longford House, said 40 per cent of the building space has remained unlet for the past five years, attributing the lack of demand to the shift of working habits, with many businesses adopting the work-from-home/flexible model since it became popular during the pandemic.

Coworking spaces offer a flexible way of working and renting for businesses. These spaces especially appeal to start-ups and individuals who often don’t need the space, nor can afford to rent a larger office unit.

Research carried out by Durlings, a local commercial property firm, on behalf of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC), predicted the “uncertain” future of office space in 2021, citing the “general trend towards the benefits of flexible and serviced offices and coworking spaces”. The research led to the ongoing development of a project to create community-based coworking spaces in the Town Hall.

A start-up boom in the UK has also led to “an increasing number of people looking to supplement homeworking with coworking,” explains Emma Smith, co-founder and Managing Director of The Hive.

Found at 12-16 The Pantiles, The Hive offers private offices, hot desks which can be booked ad-hoc and onsite catering facilities.

The experience goes further than simply a workspace, with Kypseli Taverna – a restaurant open to the public on the ground floor, while The Buzz – a coffee lounge, bar and event space is a near neighbour.

Club Quantum will be joining The Hive on The Pantiles, with their doors set to open later this year.

Set up by local entrepreneur Liam Hopper, owner of OHMY Hair salons in Tunbridge Wells and Reading, the members-only coworking space combines working with comfort and style, bringing a luxury feel to the 1887 building.

The ability to give smaller companies and individuals more flexibility with renting space is appealing, especially in the cost-of-living crisis.

OfficeTribe, which has two spaces on Mount Pleasant and London Road, saw a decline in people using facilities in the first part of this year, so adapted its membership model to create a more affordable space, offering flexible coworking days and an unlimited hotdesk membership.

Brand and Operations Manager Hattie Butler told the Times:

“OfficeTribe has always been so much more than a ‘desk for hire’ enterprise. We built our very foundations on the spirit of community and belonging.

“Our membership model ensures it has never been more affordable to work with us for a day, month or permanently and this has led to an increase of people using both our spaces.”

Diverse businesses and individuals occupy the Tribe’s spaces including marketing agency Colley Raine, who have been working from OfficeTribe since April 2021.

Managing Director Sarah Raine enjoys the flexibility the coworking space offers, especially during periods of growth.

“We have grown out of three offices in our two-plus years with them and they have [accommodated] us every time,” she said.

The extra perks of coworking spaces including regular socials, workshops and breakfast catch-ups often pave the way for collaboration and more opportunities.

“We share knowledge and recommend each other for work opportunities. There are often people in the building who have complementary skills to your business,” Sarah added.

A further benefit of local coworking spaces is the ability to cut down on commuting time and travel costs.

Mandy Weston, Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of Town Square (Town Sq) recognises this as a benefit, as she explained why they are increasing their portfolio, which includes coworking spaces in London and Cardiff, to a prime location in Tunbridge Wells town centre.

“There’s so much in the heritage of the building to celebrate, we’re working hard to retain as much of that and create an inspiring professional workspace for local entrepreneurs and freelancers, as well as a space for people to work closer to home and cut down on commute time.

“There is a lot more to coworking than just the space. Having the ability to simply turn to someone and talk through challenges that they’ve overcome themselves is invaluable.

“You don’t get that working from home or in a coffee shop – and along with the natural networking you build trust and relationships. That’s what adds real value and energy to a workspace”, she said.

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