Happenings by the river

Nov 24 2015

“Here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that’s always changing!”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Many of you will be aware of what we do here at TC, and I certainly don’t want to bore you, but many people have been asking me of late, “…what is it that you actually do now that you’re not renting out space?” With our recent move to new premises, lots of questions have landed in my inbox regarding our co-working space and where Mr Toad is at, so I thought perhaps it seemed like the right time to start blogging to talk you through what we’re doing, and where we’re hoping to go – if you would like to know.

For the last 5 years, we have been happily chugging along in Ruthven Lane, operating as both a co-working space and a creative production studio. I set out with the idea to house freelancers, providing a community space in which people could meet, be creative by feeding off each other, and be productive. This initial set up was a means to an end but it blossomed and grew. The space itself evolved massively. By our last days the aesthetic was really something to be proud of, and I was very sad to leave it. When I made the decision to move premises and put the co-working on hold, we had 15 people renting – the studio itself had never looked better. Mr Toad would have been proud. 

Our workshop loft space in the Shirley Olive branch of Toad’s Caravan studio at Ruthven Lane

Freelancers came and went. I met so many interesting people every day. We had over 100 people signed up to use the space in total over our time at Ruthven Lane. Every day was a school day. I received hundreds of enquiries, met with hundreds of people, heard about all kinds of new start ups and business ideas on a weekly basis.

There is nothing quite like the feeling I felt every time a long-term resident told me they were moving on. In fact there is – it’s like being dumped. The first was the hardest; Mike and Ally (UpUp Design) moved to their own space after a great 2 years in TC. It was unsettling, because they were the first to leave. They brought so much in the way of creative input, friendship, japes, and general support. But when new people arrived and brought their own stories with them, I realised this was the way it would be, and that this was ok! The break-ups are still hard…

Ally Bhatia (Photo by Ashley Baxter, Girl With A Camera)

I spent some time in other co-working spaces. 3 months at StudioMates in DUMBO in Brooklyn, NYC, was an amazing experience. I was around for their evolution to a few new spaces including Friends Work Here in Carroll Gardens and The Townhouse in Gowanus. I made contact with co-working spaces around the world to talk to them about what they were doing and how we could potentially work together. I gave talks and interviews to students studying to learn about start ups, co-working and the amazing impact the right space could have on your work. I learned so much about our working environment, working with other people, and of course about myself.

Sometimes I felt like a sponge. Every day something new would emerge, so I began to open up more and more to the unknown. This approach helped me identify exactly what it is that’s important about a work space, and ultimately, what people are looking for from you as their landlord, coordinator, advisory, host, colleague and friend – because really, you should be all of these things to everyone in your space.

Of course, being all these things, or at least attempting to be all these things, whilst (often) working on 10 creative projects and running our side project All The Young Nudes life drawing club weekly in 3 cities, with plans to launch internationally, became a little overwhelming. This was indeed a positive state of overwhelmed because every aspect of the business was going well – and there was demand for more. The problem was and is, that I only have so much space in my brain for information. And just the one pair of hands. (I’m working on this). When you have no time for anything outside of work and things start to slip, you know you need to make a change. The simple solution to a lot of this is staff, but taking the time to look for and train staff has proved to be really quite tricky.

There were practical reasons for the move; most prominently, a couple of large creative commissions came in and I knew I had to knuckle down, without distractions. It’s perhaps not fair to brand the co-working space as a distraction or a burden, but my time was split, as was my attention. But sometimes, it’s exciting to move and shake. I felt our time at Ruthven Lane had run it’s course.

This summer we took some time to focus on creative projects. We just launched an online campaign for Fisherman’s Friend, are working on a music video for kids band, The Pop Ups, a film for Glasgow based eco-nappy company TotsBots, a potential commission with The National Theatre of Scotland which is due to launch next year and finally, growing All The Young Nudes in more cities. It may not sound like it, but doing this has given my brain a little space to think about what’s next for us as a company. In these three months, I have really missed our community and what it brings to our working lives. I have also been delighted to hear from so many of my past TC residents to ask if and when we will be opening another co-working space.

Being able to mould Toad’s Caravan to accommodate the people in it, with no restraints, is an invaluable thing. There are no rules and I feel that it’s very important to remember this when considering your workspace and set-up, wherever you may be. When you are comfortable, happy and fulfilled, your brain is settled and still – and that’s when you do your best work. Or at least, this is true for many. What I’m talking about is akin to home-making. And yoga.

Mr Toad has plans afoot!