Islington’s ground-breaking affordable workspace programme – which gives budding entrepreneurs from often excluded communities the tools to thrive, helping to make the borough a more equal place – has delivered more than £1.24million worth of uplift to the local economy in its first two years.
The council’s report is the first in the country to measure the social value impact of an affordable workspace programme – putting a financial value on the wraparound support provided to help residents make a success of their bright ideas and business ambition.
The council’s pioneering approach was to draw up innovative agreements with workspace providers who, in lieu of rent, leverage the immense business expertise in the borough to provide a wraparound programme of mentoring and networking opportunities, workshops, courses, advice and business support, as well as free or low-cost office and workshop space.
This combination is becoming the cradle for a thriving local economy that creates jobs and new opportunities. Monetary amounts assigned to the various elements of support enable the calculation of the project’s social value – already more than £1.24million.
Cllr Santiago Bell-Bradford, Executive Member for Inclusive Economy and Jobs, said: “Islington is a borough of huge contrasts, with global businesses headquartered alongside exciting start-ups, extreme wealth side-by-side with highly deprived households – more than a third of children live in poverty here.
“Our workspaces have only been open a short time but are already proving to be life-changing for the many residents with great ideas and ambition, who may have lacked the physical space, the practical support, the contacts or the funds to take advantage of the opportunities on their doorstep.
“This approach is already helping some of the most excluded members of our community and is key to our vision of creating a more equal borough where everyone can reach their potential, whatever their background. I am genuinely excited to see how much social value this innovative and exciting programme can deliver for our communities in the future.”
Terry Smith, director and co-founder of Northbound Radio, relocated to SPACE4 – an affordable workspace in Finsbury Park – in January 2020 after a long search. He said: “Being resident here has provided us with the ideal location and the ideal co-working community to enable us to broadcast and publish content. The SPACE4 family have provided us with support and resource, and we’ve regularly used the services of, or collaborated with, members of this group to help deliver our content and platform.”
Islington’s programme is focused on creating an inclusive economy, opening workspaces that serve residents’ needs, in the right sectors, in the right locations – including high streets and underused buildings the council already owns, and private new-build offices in prestigious locations.
Ground-breaking agreements with commercial developers have seen the council secure 5,400sqm of affordable workspace in the borough. More than 1,700sqm is already in use across seven sites, run by four operating partners and almost double that amount is in development at four other locations.
The spaces range from textile workshops for local designer-makers and a dedicated high-street retail location to sell their creations, to recording and podcast suites, co-working space and meeting rooms. Some are dedicated spaces for workers’ co-operatives, ‘tech for good’ businesses and social innovators, while others support those who are underrepresented in certain business sectors, particularly women and people from Black or minority ethnic backgrounds.
The report was launched last Thursday (28 July) at the recently-opened affordable workspace in the White Collar Factory in Old Street, run by co-working and small business experts TownSq.
Among the report’s key findings are:
- SPACE4 – a coworking and events space specialising in tech-for-good businesses and co-operatives – has generated more than £840,000 of social value. Activities include delivering expert business advice, discounted workspace, training, workshops and events.
- FC Designer Collective & Workspace – a high street retail space connected to a fashion garment production space – has generated more than £230,000 of social value. The space has created five jobs and delivers affordable studios as well as a range of training courses, mentoring opportunities, masterclasses from industry experts and events.
- Better Space – a co-working and events space that primarily supports social enterprises and creative businesses – already has more than 100 regular users. It has generated more than £165,000 of social value through the creation of four jobs as well as a host of events and networking opportunities.
- Town Square Islington – a group of three workspaces in Old Street, in their first year of operation – has started to connect with the local community, providing them with free desk space and delivering early-stage business support and advice.
The full report, Delivering Impact: Social Value In Islington’s Affordable Workspaces, is available online.
In 2019, Islington Council began to shape legal agreements with commercial developers that required them to give over a percentage of their newly-built office space to the council, at a peppercorn rent, for the creation of affordable workspaces. This was to run alongside the council repurposing some of the buildings it already owned to create yet more affordable workspaces in the community. Once built or converted, these spaces are then sub-let by the council to a range of socially responsible affordable workspace operators.
Islington Council was the first in the UK to lock social value into the operation of these affordable workspaces. In lieu of rent, the innovative leases set out requirements for the workspace providers to deliver social value by providing vital start-up opportunities to local people alongside the expert business support and networking opportunities they need to thrive.
Islington uses the TOMs framework in partnership with the Social Value Portal, endorsed by the Local Government Association. Its benchmarked evaluations measure and calculate the social value generated within local communities by these affordable workspaces. It uses quantitative and qualitative information from the workspace operators to assign a monetary value to the outcomes of each workspace – such as courses, talks, mentoring sessions and workshops held.
Find out more about Islington’s affordable workspace programme at www.islington.gov.uk/Affordable-Workspace