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A Magazine for Sheffield

Union Street : Get together Get stuff done

Union St co-working space is a new place to get stuff done. Nestled in the city centre, just off the top of the Moor, the lovingly refurbished ex-housing office gives freelancers, home workers and social entrepreneurs a place to work, meet, collaborate, share and discuss. “It’s all about letting people work the way they want,” says co-founder Matt Hill, as he shows me round. “It’s an environment where people aren’t just using the space - they’re part of it.”

Since opening last October, the team at Union St have transformed their three-stories into an exciting and flexible working space. Coffee from Twin Café greets you on the ground floor. Run along ziferblat principles, all you pay for down here is the time you spend. The facilities and refreshments are free. The ground floor also houses the Live Works exhibition space, a sort of R&D enterprise programme run out of the University of Sheffield’s Architecture department. One floor up and the team are working on collaborative spaces for workshops, classes and meditation (work-life balance, see). Upstairs are the hot desk and meeting areas, with spaces for quiet working, informal sharing and a big old meeting table. Oh, and ping-pong. And wi-fi. And a kitchen. Everything you need, really. All for £5 a day with a one month free trial to see if it suits your working style.

“It’s all designed to get people in and involved,” explained Matt. “You might come in at the ground floor with an idea, work it into shape with other people one floor up and then decide you need a dedicated space to get your head down and develop it on the top floor.”

Talking to current Union St tenants, it’s clear the model is working. Everyone I spoke to, from software developers to budding social entrepreneurs, talked about the benefits of cheap, flexible city centre space coupled with the advantages of working in an exciting, dynamic environment. Whether it was meeting like-minded people, making useful contacts or being in a building that is always open to new ideas, tenants talked about feeling connected to the city in a way they hadn’t experienced in conventional office spaces. For example, Union St recently finished hosting the Festival of Debate. Hundreds of people discussed, shared and argued over the politics of, well, pretty much everything in an environment that was open, responsive and buzzing.

Union St looks very different to your average office too. Walking around, there’s an endearing mix of comprehensive school-style features and skilfully upcycled materials, 70s stair rails sitting alongside reclaimed wooden cladding on the walls. On the ground floor, designer and jigsaw magician Jonny Douglas has created café furniture out of donated and upcycled materials, with £500 ergonomic office chairs donated by DLA Piper, relieving them of the cost of storing unwanted but perfectly functional furniture. Upstairs sees members working away at movable desks made by Olly Galvin from repurposed pallets. Stroll through the communal kitchen and you’ll find more freelancers taking advantage of the sunshine on the roof terrace. Go even further up and there’s a planned roof garden, which is a collaborative project between Union St and Grow Sheffield.

The differences don’t stop at the design level. Union St feels very different to a standard ‘business incubation’ unit or any other traditional working space. There’s an entrepreneurial culture here, but one with collaboration, not competition, at its heart, a rejection of the idea that capitalism necessitates antagonism or is driven entirely by profits. With its flexible and affordable spaces, the building offers something for anyone who wants to work alongside, be inspired by, and share ideas with some of Sheffield’s finest. So pop in, grab a coffee, have a chat. If you want to get together and get stuff done, this is the place for you.

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