One year on from Tech Hub
In April 2017, Leeds City Council supported their commitment to encouraging a healthy and diverse tech/digital industry in the region when they announced the first round of recipients of the Leeds Tech Hub Fund.
One of which was us.
Open by name, open by nature - our application for the funding is available to read online, outlining exactly why we were applying and how the money would be spent if we were successful. Our emphasis was on providing a space where things could happen. Being an enabler of great work. A convening place for the like-minded to come together and celebrate their passions and goals. And whilst we were doing all of this before the funding, we felt that we could offer so much more. We wanted to improve the features that people benefited from and loved the most.
Our space is often much more than just somewhere to host talks or presentations. Many folk take part in workshops or hackathons, they work on prototypes, they collaborate and discuss. They go beyond just listening to other people - they actively contribute. Not every venue is geared up for this flexibility but it is something we are proud of. The challenge ahead - how do we refit the space without losing any of the charm?
The space has gone through a few face-lifts in the years since ODI Leeds first moved into Munro House in 2014, but nothing on the scale of what was planned. Imagining what the space could look like at its best also meant respecting what people already liked about it. Striking features included the sturdy desks rescued from the old Birmingham Library, the sheer amount of natural light, and the wonderful 'open' feeling to the space. High ceilings, tasteful lighting, and a lack of office clutter helped to create a space that felt 'breathable' as opposed to a claustrophobic office. One of the many comments that people always uttered upon seeing the space for the first time was just how bright and airy it felt. This was an impression we were keen to keep.
The photos above show the space as it was just days before the refit began in July 2017.
The refit was officially complete in late-October 2017 as the last major new feature - folding whiteboard walls - was installed. Now sporting a stylish new colour-scheme and lots of new sustainably sourced furniture, the space looks brighter than ever whilst still maintaining 'industrial chic.' All of the new features were chosen for their specific benefits to users of the space - improved tea/coffee station with cold storage, ergonomic seating for the coworking desks, a 'picnic' area to have lunch away from the desk, improved soundproofing, a Nook pod for private phone and video calls, and storage lockers.
Other features have a direct affect on what we can offer for venue hire - the aforementioned folding whiteboard walls to divide the space as necessary (and provide loads more scribbling space too), improved audio&visual support including the option to live-stream or record events, and standing desks to provide more interesting breakout space.
Perhaps the most interesting development of the space is that it is now technically three spaces in one. The folding whiteboard walls (which we have mentioned a lot already because they are fabulous) span the width of the space, meaning they can create three separate rooms. Which we have named The Bothy, The Common, and The Gather. We could talk for ages about the new look of the space but you'd find more photos and info on our venue hire web-page and coworking page.
But talking about impact means much more than just a change in physical surroundings.
Impact for us has been about the effect of those changes. Of course, success can't be attributed to just the refit alone. We work incredibly hard behind the scenes to secure new projects and sponsors, promoting the space as a venue, and so forth. What the new look space has enabled us to do is keep punching above our weight and look good whilst doing it.
We've seen a tremendous increase in the number of people using the space:
- New coworkers
- More regional teams of larger organisations using us as a base
- Sponsors enjoying the use of desks and meeting space as part of their sponsorship package
- A greater variety and number of events are being held at the space, with greater numbers of attendees thanks to the improved facilities
Our dashboard tracks our success as we go along and a quick glance shows that we have organised or hosted 90 events in the first 5 months of 2018 compared to the 124 events held in the whole of 2017!
This increase also applied to our annual participation in Leeds Digital Festival, where we organised and hosted more events and saw a 25% increase in the number of people who walked through our doors. For those who couldn't be there in person, the upgraded A/V kit allowed us to live-stream more of our events this year, reaching an additional 300+ people.
We've also had an impressive surge in data and innovation projects, with new clients such as the Food Standards Agency, Department for Transport, NHS Analytics, and Ofcom, among many of our cherished repeat clients.
Excitingly, we have also gained five fantastic new sponsors since the start of 2018, all of whom embrace our mission to explore and deliver the potential of open innovation at city scale and for the benefit of people whilst creating value. They join the ten existing sponsors (who all renewed their sponsorship this year) to create a network of engaged and forward-thinking organisations who are embracing open data. They have confidence in us and the work we do.
Would this have all happened without the refit?
Not at the pace that we have experienced. A slow refit over years would have meant missing out on incredible new clients and new projects. Clients that might have hesitated to take a risk with our space have felt far more confident after the refit.
There is no denying that the improved appearance and carefully considered new features of the space have made profound first, and lasting, impressions. People can immediately see how our space is different to other venues. We are not a hotel, we are not a conference hall. We are unique, and represent a tangible vision of the future way of working. Many have approached us specifically because we have so much space available for drawing, sticking things up, using post-its and markers, etc.
The space now also says more about us and the work we do - flexible, creative, participatory, innovative. Everything is out in the open - you can't hide from the notes and questions and diagrams that are on huge white walls. Everyone can see them, thus question and challenge them, opening up opportunities for solutions. Something that we highly approve of ;)