Freelance Corner visits Wrexham Community Hub, a co-working space in North Wales, and finds that it provides opportunities for those in the community.
You often find that beauty is not in the most obvious places. And in this case, it’s found in Wrexham.
At first glance, Wrexham Enterprise Hub isn’t exactly beautiful. In fact, you could say it looks like a former Iceland supermarket (which it is: the old frozen food storage room still feels like the Arctic). What is beautiful, however, is what it does.
Wrexham Enterprise Hub is a fully funded Business Wales centre (with a healthy dose of European Regional Development Fund money… but the less said about that right now, the better…). One of five Business Wales enterprise centres, its aim is to give a shot in the arm to new local freelancers and entrepreneurs – and to support community-building work in the area.
Beauty is in the eye of the co-worker
Unlike perhaps glitzier, expensive co-working spaces, the Wrexham Enterprise Hub offers its support completely free of charge. All members have to do is pass an initial vetting process.
Having rolled off the train and staggered down Wrexham High Street, I head into the Hub to find out more from its Community Manager, Carl Turner. As I enter the Hub, nestled just behind the town’s high street, a busy digital literacy class is under way in the airy front room. Carl explains that the group in the front room is one of many social enterprise programmes that Business Wales allows to use the space.
It’s a digital literacy class for people from the local area. “I believe there are criteria: I think maybe you need to be on Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit. It’s a really nice thing to support, and we just wouldn’t be able to do anything like that without the Hub here.”
It’s not the only community-building project the Hub supports. As Carl explains, “They have other projects downstairs. For example, someone is doing something on mental health and wellbeing at the moment. It’s basically walking with people who need to talk. It could be for anything, whether it’s social isolation or just wanting to have someone to talk to.”
Accessible for all
It’s not just the front-room projects, though: the whole Hub is really for helping and supporting local freelancers. “What we are all about is accessibility. If we started putting charges on things straight away, we might not be accessible to everyone. It would be pretty sad if people were put off a great idea because they couldn’t afford to pay.”
There certainly have been some great ideas coming through the Wrexham Enterprise Hub – many of them through its specialist Accelerator Programme. As Carl explains, “The Accelerator is for businesses looking to turn over a lot of money. We have some really good stories and interesting businesses from that.”
One particularly interesting business is developing compostable plastics for ready meals. These interesting ideas are generating a lot of money too. “Between all the businesses which are running from the Hub, we’ve had over £500,000 of investment over a short period of time.”
It’s not, of course, mainly about the money, however. As Carl, says, there are other success stories too: “We have one guy who quit his day job with Iceland and has gone full time with photography.”
(Clearly there’s just something about that building…) “Or there’s the guy who’s worked 24 years in the same job, but he can do whatever he likes now. A lot of people say the Hub has just given them the confidence they need – and I think that’s just as valuable as someone raising thousands of pounds.”
The hub offers chances over coffee
Carl’s view reflects a sense you get throughout the Wrexham Enterprise Hub: that although it may not have craft coffees and expensive faux-industrial décor, this is a co-working space that really cares about its members and its community. In fact, for Carl, providing a community for freelancers is one of the space’s most important functions.
“Human interaction is one of the main things we offer members, because working on your own can be isolating. It gives people the chance to grow their businesses alongside other people working on similar projects. Collaboration is so important.”
Wrexham as you may or may not have guessed, is not exactly famous for its co-working and freelancing scene. Indeed, the Enterprise Hub is the only operation of its kind for miles around. The former Iceland supermarket is not a particularly beautiful or glamorous site itself, although it is certainly spacious.
But what it does is beautiful, offering vital support not only to freelancers from around North Wales, but also to its immediate community. The enterprising space is all about its community, and in that sense, it really puts the ‘co’ in co-working.