Interview: Kerry & Heidi, Founders of The Old Post OfficeInterviews
Why did you decide to open up a coworking space? Was it a long time in the works or somewhat spontaneous?
It’s sort of a mixture of the two. Kerry had been planning on opening a co-working space a few years before and it hadn’t worked out, but opening The Old Post Office happened in a flurry of serendipity.
As we are both freelancers, we had been talking about looking for office space somewhere local for our own practices – Kerry (http://www.kerryleslie.com/) is a graphic designer and Heidi (https://www.heidimurphy.co.uk/) works in community development. We wanted something small and local and had considered renting a small space in our local café as we were spending so much time there anyway.
Our friend Laura noticed a shop had become available on the local high street. This was on a Friday morning, and on Monday evening we went to have a look at the space – which was absolutely perfect but too big just to be an office for two. So, we decided to make it a small co-working space. We both met co-working in a local café co-working and there’s a large community of people who work remotely or work from home in the area.
Just 5 days after our friend seeing the To Let sign, we were handing over our savings, signing a 3-year lease and had accidentally started a business together.
How did you find the process of sourcing and repurposing a building?
Considering the spontaneity of it all, we’ve been very lucky in the space that we’ve found and that we’ve been able to call upon expertise from around our community. We’ll open just over 2 months after signing a lease, and it’s been an absolute whirlwind of 8 weeks – although we did say goodbye to any sort of Christmas break.
Every day has posed a new challenge that we’ve worked through. When we pulled down the wallpaper we found a rotting and mouldy wall, and one day when we turned the lights on the fire alarm also sounded. We’re really lucky to be in an area of Birmingham that has a strong community and eclectic mix of tradespeople – our decorator, as well as being a decorator, also sells kombucha at our local community-run market (http://thehappyguthut.com/). We’ve also called on local traders, like Enamel Shades (https://www.enamelshades.co.uk/) who designed and installed our lights, to create something which has had community involvement from the very beginning.
We’re also very lucky that our landlord is local and cares about the community. He runs the restaurant across the road from us, so he’s easy to find when something goes wrong. We found him in the bank, the other day.
We saw a terrific photo of the old Stirchley Post Office on your Instagram. Will you be using that history in the design of your space?
We’re leaning into our Post Office heritage – so much so that Heidi started a stamp collection over Christmas. Our colour scheme uses the same gradient (but different shades, please don’t sue us) that the Post Office use – moving from red to teal. We also have rentable bright red lockers, and our newsletter is called Special Delivery. Unfortunately, there aren’t many physical memories of the Post Office in the Space, but our back door is the same reinforced door from The Post Office Vault.
Once we found out that the space used to be the post office, we felt we had to keep the name going (read: we also didn’t have a name, to begin with). We’re based in Stirchley, an area of South Birmingham that’s changing very rapidly but still has a strong sense of its history. Stirchley Baths (https://stirchleybaths.org/2013/02/22/key-dates-in-the-history-of-stirchley-baths-can-you-fill-in-the-gaps/) is still a place communities gather – but rather than learning to swim it’s our local community centre, and our library is still open because of the hard work of Friends of Stirchley Library (of which Kerry is a founding member) http://friendsofstirchleylibrary.org.uk/ who worked with the council to protect our local library from closing.
Kerry is keen on us stamping out our postal themed puns.
How are you planning to build a sense of community amongst members?
Alongside using the forum functions in Coherent to create a digital community; we’re planning to lead by example and lead the space in a community orientated way. When members join we’re asking them if they consent to us checking in if they don’t turn up on a day that they’re booked in – just to make sure that everything’s ok, or if they need someone to chat to (or do a pharmacy run if they’re close by).
As women, we’ve worked in a lot of co-working spaces, and we’re choosing to use our space to champion the work done by incredible women both nearby and further afield. We’re working with Girls Who Grind Coffee (https://www.girlswhogrindcoffee.com/), a women-led company who work with women coffee growers from around the world and promote ethical coffee practice; Heidi also has a spreadsheet of great women-led wineries for special occasions or events.
We’re also being transparent in how we work and how we’re funded, which are conversations we’ve seen other coworking spaces shy away from. We think that the best way to start a community is by being honest with our members when they have questions. The Old Post Office happened because we are lucky enough to have savings that we’ve worked hard to and been able to build up.
What type of music will be playing in the Old Post Office?
We won’t be playing any music. Mostly because we don’t have a PRS license, but also for accessibility reasons. While we’ve been working on the space over the past two months we’ve been listening to all sorts, mostly Mary Lattimore, Fatoumata Diawara and Beyoncé.
Why did you select Coherent as your booking system?
We tried A LOT of booking systems and everything was either overly simple and didn’t have all the features we needed, or was too in-depth for what we were looking for – and came with a price tag that represented that. We like that our Coherent platform can grow as we grow, and we love how easy it is to use.
Do you have any exciting plans coming up that you would like to plug?
We open on the 20th of January, so our events programme won’t start until February. But we’ve got a lot of exciting plans up our sleeves including Dog Life Drawing with some very good local doggos, and we’re working with a local chef for a Galentine’s Day event.
Any questions for us at Coherent?
How did you start Coherent? Our founder started a coworking space and as it grew he found he was spending a lot of time on admin. He started searching around for software but didn’t find anything that met his needs, so he decided to build Coherent! It was an internal system for a while, but as we realised more people were looking for similar solutions it became a business in its own right.
How big is your team? We are a team of six. Two of us are living in Germany and the rest of us are Bristol based.
What do you think makes or breaks a productive workspace? Tough question! We think that a big part of productivity comes from your surroundings. A friendly atmosphere and good room temperature allows you to sink into your work and when you need some headspace you can always find someone to have a coffee with.
Find out more about The Old Post Office