Co-working in Clerkenwell

Clerkenwell Post Editor Josh Burt paid Fora a visit

Over the last couple of decades, safe to say the working landscape has changed. You can’t just sit behind the same desk doing the same job anymore, trundling along a conveyor belt that ends with a handshake and a carriage clock. There are fewer jobs for life, there are no guarantees, there’s also a great big bloody internet now. Hence these days, for many people (especially in London), work can be transient, it can be ever-changing and dynamic, feast or famine, and it can happen anywhere at any time.

Even so, having first dipped a toe into freelance writing 18 years ago, before completely submerging myself a year later, I know the importance of a good, well-maintained workspace. A sanctuary where you can assemble some balance amidst the chaos, and maintain a fully functioning noggin. So, when the good people of Fora dropped me a line wondering if I’d like to sample their wares for a day or so, I immediately scooped up my laptop, put on some trousers because society demands it, and pedalled myself there (on foot). “Yes please” was what I was saying.

For those who don’t know, Fora is a shared workspace with two Clerkenwell branches, one on Central Street and one on Dallington Street, both the brainchild of Katrina Larkin, who was once behind the UK’s most inventive, inclusive, and enjoyable festival The Big Chill. The website promises a “premium hotel-style service”, and a “reimagining of the office experience” – two declarations that were music to my ears. Firstly, because I really like premium hotels (much more than rubbish non-premium ones) and also because I like the idea of reimagining the office experience. Lots of my office experiences over the years (and there have been many) have been sub-par. Too hot, too cold, too noisy, too eerie, too sociable, too unsociable. I’m not saying I’m difficult to please here, I’m just saying that getttting the balance exactly right is like walking a tightrope made of dental floss.

“We never actually use the word office,” Katrina reassuringly told me over the phone before my visit. “And to put things in perspective, right now I’m lying on a green velvet sofa with a beautiful skylight above me. There are plants on the walls, loads of art, a bar in front of me, piled with cakes, there are board games, coffee, prosecco. If you were to step in here you’d say this isn’t where people work… but it is.”

As I make my way through the spinny doors at the Central Street branch at 9am on a Tuesday morning, past the long, inviting bar area (it’s too early for a proper drink), and to the reception manned by people far too beautiful for that time of day, I see exactly what she means, and I can already feel the “premium” promises coming true too. So much so that I’m secretly dreading clocking off and downgrading to my normal non- premium life.

My host from reception walks me to my quarters, giving me a quick potted geographical history of the place along the way. Open for a year and a half or so, already very popular, a beautifully configurated hot-desking area over there, a variety of areas to suit different needs over here, whether people be brainstorming as a group or diligently working solo. A gym, personal training sessions, he points out the kitchen that’s stocked with hot drinks (I eye up a posh-looking peppermint tea), at one point I think he says “wet room”. 

Then I’m ushered into my “space” for my stay – a large glass-doored open plan, air conditioned office that I immediately want as my own forever. I fight the urge to hug him or to start pleading/bargaining with him to just give it to me, and as he departs I’m left to drink it all in. It’s comfortable, it’s clean, the air feels nice, I momentarily imagine having one of those buttons on my desk that links directly to an assistant outside who you can tell to “send them in”. I then go for a wander to get a peppermint tea and a good feel for the place.

“We are a premium brand,” Katrina had told me. “We’re not cheap, but people pay for what they want, and you feel good when you walk into Fora – you get respect, you’re with like-minded people. We’ve provided spaces across the city that inspire people and let them succeed in what they’re doing.” 

“It’s a Dolly Mixture of industries all in one packet, all in it together.” She’s not wrong. It’s great. Full of nooks and crannies, and there’s a sense of hustle and flow that doesn’t feel overbearing. The back area near “my office” is like a small labyrinth, and through each door you can see different business at work. There’s a company that looks like a toy factory, one that has the cool swagger of a record label, and unlike the cramped media chicken coups that have served me so badly in the past, people look happy to be here, they’re feasting on this “re-imagined office experience” and enjoying the “premium hotel-style service”. Even the toilets pipe in a mellow soundtrack to relax you on your journey.

“There’s no specific demographic or age group, Fora is simply for people who respond to what we offer,” continued Katrina. “I have music managers, architects, charities, you name it. But what brings these people to us is that they’re ambitious, not necessarily in a commercial sense, but in the sense that they truly believe in what they do and they want a space that allows them to be more productive. When you’re here, we want you to be in the flow every day, as soon as you step through the door.”

I jot notes into my complimentary notepad, I gaze contentedly out of my complimentary window, I type maniacally like a concert pianist, and drink a gazillion peppermint teas. All the while I do feel “in the flow”. I’m part of a well-oiled machine, and I can see how intoxicating it must be to be surrounded on a daily basis by successful businesses sharing a space with you. The modern world of work is indeed a transient one, so somewhere like Fora makes perfect sense. It’s a Dolly Mixture of industries all in one packet, all in it together. They don’t need to knock a sign into the ground with a mallet or paint everything beige, they just need a vessel that’s ship shape, Bristol fashion, and ready to set sail. Will they be on that same boat forever, chugging towards the horizon, silhouetted by the setting sun? Who knows? But for a while it makes for a bloody lovely cruise.

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Illustration by Tim King