Brixton’s saucer inspiration

Steve Powdrill meets Brixton freelancers who run their businesses from café tables and hotdesking workspaces

Freelance at bar with laptop workers behind
Coffee and concentration in Brixton’s Canova Hall

The life of a freelance is tough. Whether your trade is digital arts, financial consulting, journalism, or even running your own retail business, finding your own work and putting your products on the market requires hard work, drive and business acumen – especially in Brixton.

Known for bustling marketplaces and entrepreneurial vision, Brixton has more recently become home to many more workers plying their own trade and shunning the traditional nine-to-five slog.

In some cases, workers are grappling with full-time jobs and being their own master for the remainder of the week, with one in four UK workers said to be running “side businesses”. (BBC) research has also shown millennials are most likely to be their own bosses, with 37% of workers aged 25-34 running a business of some kind.

This pioneering spirit does not come without its woes, with commercial rents in South London rocketing in recent years and shops shutting down with disappointing frequency.

Expensive office and retail space is the second most frequently mentioned challenge for business owners.

With Brixton serving as the populous, “go-to” area for trendy Londoners, prices do not look likely to get any lower. So rather than forking out a likely £20,000 for a “small retail unit measuring in the region of 500 sq ft on Electric Avenue”, it seems new business owners and freelancers would much rather get their work done in the warmth of a café or shared workspace, for a fraction of the price.

Several businesses looking to provide workspaces for the community have popped up, with ImpactHub in Pop Brixton being an especially busy venue – even offering a Monday morning breakfast club for freelancers, where professionals can brainstorm solutions to widespread issues within a range of creative ventures.

Hinton House of Loughborough Junction and Canova Hall of Ferndale Road both offer hotdesking passes, entitling workers to unlimited hot drinks, wi-fi and use of the social work space, with the latter venue also serving as a bustling restaurant and bar for those needing a quick break from their laptop.

These privately run hotdesks range from £50 a month at Canova Hall to a substantial £200 a month at Hinton House. But local public sector workspaces were boosted after London mayor Sadiq Khan launched a new, Brixton-based creative enterprise zone (CEZ) in December.

The program endorses one of London’s largest affordable workspaces at International House (new home to Brixton Blog and Bugle), where office space will be allocated via application on a “BuyGiveWork” initiative. This is designed to ensure that as space is purchased, additional “free” space will be divvied out to creatives most in financial need.

It remains to be seen how effectively this program will run, and exactly how accessible the work space will be for the wider Brixton creative community.

But with other CEZ initiatives focusing on career progression and leadership opportunities for 500 more young people in the local area, this kind of government support should only be a good thing for the new generation.

The horizon looks hopeful for the freelancers, artists, entrepreneurs and bohemians of Brixton in 2019.

I asked four for their thoughts …

 

Brixton freelance James
James: I’d love to see businesses change their hours to open longer

James

Freelance screenwriter

Brixton is supportive in that there are loads of little businesses where you can open up your laptop and get work done. But the opening hours of my favourite places to work shortened. They found it to be unprofitable later in the evening. If you’re a writer, you want to find a place open in those later hours to push your passion projects forward and be productive. Stir Coffee, a place I love, had to shorten their open hours and they now close at 5. F Mondays, similarly, shut at 4pm. I’d love to see businesses change their hours or some new businesses open up that could do this.

 

George, Brixton freelance
George: Brixton is a really valuable place for me

George

Freelance graphic designer and owner of Chip off the Block food truck

I’ve lived here for two and a half years, and Brixton is now a great place to work during the day, it’s a real hot, melting pot of interesting, dynamic people. Having discovered Canova Hall, I’ve met a lot of interesting people in interesting fields, a lot of the time by chance. There’s freelancers, web designers, people building small businesses etc. I think you’ll find that here more than other, more central parts of London, so Brixton is a really valuable place for me.

 

Paulio

Owner of Aphewthings garment decoration company

Brixton freelance Paulio
Paulio: Brixton is prime market now. It’s not cheap for a start-up company

I’ve had positive and negative experiences, but affording a shop to work from is quite difficult as Brixton is prime market now. It’s not cheap for a start-up company. In that sense, it’s been a bit heart-breaking. Brixton really needs to go back to its roots of start-up companies and freelancers being able to showcase their own work and create a big community hub. You’re investing in the future with small businesses, which would then bring more money into the community and the council.

Amy, Brixton freelance
Amy: More understanding of how you can set up your own company would be really helpful

Amy

Freelance urban planning and crisis management consultant

What would be really helpful in Brixton is more understanding of how you can set up your own company and how you can start off. For those people in the initial stages of an idea, there could be social events with public speakers or differently themed work sessions. I think skills building specifically into how freelancers can do what they’re doing in the local area and then further into the London boroughs would be helpful.

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