We step away from the retail sector in our latest spotlight feature on independents to visit Indieworx Collective, the co-working space for Harrogate’s business community and chat with founder Jem Henderson.
Time and again people’s personal experiences in life feed their desire to do something they’ve always wanted to do or to put something back or to make a difference; such is the case for Indieworx Collective founder Jem Henderson.
From being 16 and homeless in Harrogate, she now runs a co-working space to support small businesses, the self-employed and freelancers and bring what she calls “disruptive collaboration” to the local business community.
Jem has a forthright and engaging way about her which has served her well as it was hard work to get the ambitious project up and running; that and a fierce determination to make it work, which springs from her earlier experiences.
She says in a disarmingly frank way: “I was born in Harrogate and I’ve stayed in Harrogate. At 16 I was homeless and living on the streets here but I got myself out and it has given me the drive to find a way to help everybody including young adults. I love Harrogate.”
So three degrees – art, English and creative writing – and a boring spell as a technology copywriter later and Indieworx is under way and getting noticed; or as she charmingly puts it, producing a “cacophony of nonsense”, a reference to the thoughts and ideas that come out of members’ conversations.
Tucked away at the Skipton Road end of Grove Road, Indieworx occupies one of those artisanal buildings that abound in Harrogate. A solid Victorian stone place that could’ve been a small workshop, stables or a place to park a carriage or two.
These days, the long slim building is filled with 22 desks, wi-fi, numerous socket and plug points, a meeting room with a flat screen TV, a kitchen area and a cluster of comfy sofas.
A separate building houses a break-out room with obligatory table football and a second meeting room and Jem hopes to rent out the office space on the first floor. Members pay £20/year, then an £18 drop in rate per day to use the space and facilities.
This is where the “disruptive collaboration” takes place. The notion is more positive than it sounds and simply means encouraging business professionals to break from their own working routines and discover if they can use their skills together.
Jem gives the example of a baker and a digital designer who are Indieworx members and who ended up looking at how to improve the baker’s presence on social media. The creative, digital and media industries are well represented in the membership profile and the town’s legal, financial and academic sectors have also shown a keen interest.
She explains: “In big cities, industries come together and focus on themselves but Harrogate isn’t big enough to support different business sectors doing the same. What we can do is bring people together from different industries and have them have different conversations and help each other.”
But Jem signals her bigger ambitions and makes it clear that Indieworx is more than a space where business people can come together.
She says “Every morning the roads are packed with professionals heading out of Harrogate to go somewhere else. It’s better for jobs in Harrogate if they stay here. We want to help grow the Harrogate economy by empowering people who want to achieve.”
The future for Indieworx will also mean events, workshops, programmes where larger businesses and the public sector can come and tap into the diverse membership.
It will also be an education hub, with a teaching programme about business start-up and expansion, coding clubs for 9-13 year olds, back-to-work programmes for young mothers and a place to find mentors and supporters.
Quietly, Indieworx also addresses the issue of isolation for people who work for themselves at home.
Jem mentions that a new member took one look at the comfy sofas and said that it was just like his living room. Jem approved of that, adding with a smile that her own macramé work adorns one of the sofas at the front desk.
From being homeless to creating a homely space for others, that’s a success in itself.