On March 28th, I came home to Norwich after six months of travelling almost constantly. The weather was still wintery compared to Southeast Asia, and it’s no coincidence that I arrived back a day before Brexit was meant to happen (or, I should say, the last time Brexit was meant to happen).
Alas, I was finally home.
Soon, though, I realised that something — something important — was missing here in Norwich. There was no dedicated hub for self-employed people; no place to connect, collaborate and feel like we belong. In fact, there wasn’t a visible community of freelancers at all, despite there being a lot of them living in the area.
So, I wondered, where the fuck was everyone hiding?
Over the next few months, I decided to find out. I met with everyone I could and asked for their views on freelance life in Norwich, as well as where they physically worked from.
It turns out that most people can be found in the spare bedroom or at the dining room table. Others are unofficially based at cafes and bakeries, praying nobody will nick the only plug while they're in the loo.
Some have taken on coworking desks or small offices that promised benefits like events, opportunities and support — features that rarely emerged once they’d paid their deposits. Not one person told me they feel like they’re part of a community of freelancers.
These conversations led me and my partner Jesse to decide we would launch a new coworking space, made specifically to serve the city’s creative freelancers. We felt that a building could be the beginning of developing the sense of community that’s so severely lacking in Norwich right now — for us as much as anyone else.
Some of you already know what happened next. Three painful months of dealing with the commercial property industry, only to be told our building wasn't fire safe and the landlord didn’t want to make it so. A major setback. But we’re still determined to make it happen.
Why? Because Norwich has a lot to offer freelancers, and freelancers based here have a lot of knowledge to share with the world. It’ll take external investment and a lot of hard work, but there’s enormous potential for our city to lead the way as self-employment continues to grow, nationally and globally.
The coworking space will play an important role in making that vision a reality, and the more challenges we come up against, the more opportunities seem to emerge.
We’re continuing the search for a suitable building, but in the meantime, we’re organising a series of coworking days between now and Christmas (details of the first one are included below). We’ll also be using these newsletters as a place to share ideas, news, opportunities, and more.
If my work has taught me anything, though, it’s that true communities are networks, not top-down organisations. To put it simply, the two of us alone certainly don’t have all the answers. But we’re committed to facilitating the conversations and activities that could help the best ideas emerge.
We hope that this is the beginning of an exciting journey to make freelancing in Norwich better for everyone. If you have thoughts to share or feedback for us, get in touch.