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Funkbunk one of UK’s oldest coworking spaces closes its doors

by | Sep 9, 2015 | Business Operations, Coworking | 0 comments


Hi Sam! Can you introduce yourself?


Hello! I am Sam Cranwell. I’m a workspace enthusiast, product designer, peddler, dad and husband to Kia (my coworking compadre). After closing our coworking space I now run a business designing and making sustainable, iconic office furniture.

What is the rural Coworking project you launched, in 2007?

Wow, ten years flies by doesn’t it! Back in 2007, Kia and I opened the doors to FunkBunk. A rural collaborative workhub (as we called it back then) in old WW2 buildings in rural Buckinghamshire. We chose FunkBunk as it was a memorable name, and we were in essentially a converted war bunker.

Why a coworking space in a village? Was/Is there a demand for that?

My design business was based in a rural business park but I moved my studio into my home as lease costs kept going up. I was just about going stir crazy sharing my house with my employees and colleagues when the opportunity arose to occupy a large workshop in need of conversion near by. The space was way bigger than what we needed but we had read some blog posts about coworking spaces in warehouses opening up in the US, and this inspired us to get in touch with our network any see if anyone was up for sharing an office. The response from other small businesses and freelancers we knew was really positive and we had a core group that were ready to move in when we opened the doors.

Is the purpose to lure people from outside the area, by making it more attractive, or to bring local workers together in order to create a new local dynamic?

We were hoping that we could bring local freelancers and small businesses from surrounding villages together, but most of our community actually came from further afield. Commuting to FunkBunk didn’t bother people as there no other space like us around (outside of towns and cities). We set out to make an attractive space that would encourage people to view us as a destination – and that seemed to work!

How did you build up a community from scratch? How big is it? How diverse?

Aside from our core group of ‘residents’ who started using us very early on we spent a fair bit of time going to local networking groups, running pr in local newspapers and we also ran some art gallery events in the early days. Having people who wanted to use the space before we even opened made a massive difference though. It took the pressure off having to find new ‘FunkBunkers’ en-mass and meant we could build a community slowly. The community was always small though – at it’s peak we only had around 35 people using the space regularly (at one time). This small group was incredibly diverse though. We had engineers, writers, designers, coders, students, marketeers… we even had a bona-fide Nasa rocket scientist with us a for a year!

What kind of facility do you have to provide which is different to what you would have to offer in a more urban area?

Parking is essential. As a rural destination workspace people would have to drive or cycle to get us. The nearest bus stop was 10 minutes walk away but there were no pavements. Also giving people some space to go and have lunch (and good kitchen facilities and somewere to store their food) was important too, as there was no cafe around the corner you could walk to. Also in the summer, with such a lovely country location we needed to set up the outside space so people could enjoy that too when they wanted to take a break in the sun.

Was the coworking profitable? What is the business model?

At it’s peak, it was a profitable business, but myself and Kia were not full-time employees of FunkBunk. I ran my design business from there and Kia was writing full time so we didn’t need to take salaries from the business. This worked so well for us, as we were always there anyway and the only overheads of the business were the lease, maintenance, marketing and utilities. We tried all sorts of strategies over the years from memberships to pay-as-you-go pricing, but we found our loyal users needed us to be flexible so we came up with a credit based system. People block bought an amount of desk-time which they had a month to use. This seemed to work well for everyone, even if meant we weren’t locking people into contract memberships.

What are the main challenges had you had to face during the 10 years?

The main challenge was keeping the marketing and community going. 3 years ago, Kia and I had a little girl which meant we started sharing our time out at FunkBunk rather than both being there all the time. A coworking community needs it’s lynch pins to be there, to be hosts and to support it’s members. Without that, even the regulars start coming in less. With less people, there is less atmosphere. People came to FunkBunk to work, but they kept coming back if there was a buzz about the place. It inspired people when it was at its best, but if the place was quiet, and you were new to coworking it would make people feel a bit uncomfortable I think. That’s when a full time host is essential as they can be available for anything from chats to help with getting set up on a printer.
We were really lucky with our community though. There were never any arguments, and we saw lots of people really benefit in lots of ways from using the space.

What are the tips you would give to operator planning to open a coworking space in a rural area or a small town?

Offer parking (essential if you are in the sticks)
Create a break-out space people can use for lunch, or informal meetings
Set up a good, well equipped kitchen facility and if you are offering food or drink make sure it always in stock.
Make sure the place is clean at all times.
We found letting people bring dogs to work was a really great thing – just set out the ground rules before hand.
Run events on a regular basis (we really didn’t do enough of this, but when we did, it was amazing).
Don’t force people to network – do intros if appropriate, but in an open plan working environment, connections happen organically.
Your website has to be awesome. Regular, strong content & social marketing is essential for letting people know you are there. A top notch booking system will save you a world of trouble too.
Love your community – never take them for granted. They are your family and will support your space and make it fly.

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