A Bristolian’s Impact Hub Experience from San Francisco
Hi, I’m Jess Ferrow and although I call Bristol home, in 2015 I moved to the San Francisco Bay in California. As a newbie I was keen to dive straight into the west coast working culture, famed for its laid-back style, tech startups and innovative social enterprises. So what better way to get stuck in than to take up the local Impact Hub’s offer of a free day of co-working?
On the first Friday of every month, Impact Hub Oakland opens its doors and invites newbies like me to join them and their established community of entrepreneurs, freelancers and changemakers in their gorgeous, high-ceilinged space in Downtown Oakland. Opened in 2013, this former abandoned car showroom is all exposed brick, natural light and industrial air ducts (think of Southville’s Tobacco Factory Cafe with about six times the floor space and four times the ceiling height). Best of all, it’s ideally located, just five minutes walk from the 19th St. subway station past hip bars and coffee shops and four blocks over from the urban oasis of Lake Merritt – perfect for lunchtime strolls. Following an easy online sign up process for my free day pass, I turned up at 9am with my laptop and a stack of work, ready to get productive.
Impact Hub Oakland in all its glory.
I was greeted warmly by a lovely host at the front desk, who helped me sign myself in on an iPad and offered to show me around. The building itself is beautiful – a large, light, central atrium forms the main co-working space – filled with desks and ergonomic chairs and of course, plenty of power sockets. There is also a mezzanine level with breakout space and dedicated offices for long term members, and allegedly, although I didn’t see it, a quiet space to nap in! Meeting rooms are available to book, as are a number of soundproofed telephone booths for making calls.
As someone who feeds off the energy of others working and being productive, I felt able to really knuckle down and get some work done. Surrounded by talented and driven people and powered by lightning-fast wifi, I felt focused, inspired and productive, and managed to race through my work. I could help myself to free herbal tea from the kitchen with its instant hot water tap, and there was a donation jar for proper coffee, the open plan kitchen providing a great opportunity for water cooler moments with the other residents.
As lunchtime approached, the lovely host who had checked me in made an announcement, inviting everyone to join in on ‘Sexy Salad’, their communal lunch that they run on first Fridays. Members eat for free while guests like me donate $5 to the pot. They set up a long table filled with delicious organic goodies and around 30 people sat to eat together, passing food up and down, family style. The conversation flowed and connections were made. On my right was a young social justice campaigner, on my left was a wellness consultant and opposite me was a self employed musician who was writing a business plan for a new venture. During lunch, we were treated to a raw cookery demonstration, smoothie making, and a few businesses that were based in the Hub gave short presentations about their own social enterprises. All food for thought!
Many sole traders and freelancers need a place to work with appropriate amenities – i.e. desk, wifi, printing, and many co-working spaces stop there. But Impact Hub Oakland is clearly bringing more than that, and it delivers in it spades. Not only is it a beautiful, creative space – exactly the kind of place you’d want to go to get out of the lonely caverns of your own mind, to help you to birth new ideas – it’s an authentic and inclusive community. As I worked through the rest of the afternoon, I started nodding in recognition to the people I’d been talking to at lunch, in just a few hours I’d already been made to feel welcome, like I was one of the gang.
And as the end of the day drew near, the added bonus was still to come. The monthly free co-working day at Impact Hub Oakland has a very special link to the local community. For years, Oakland First Fridays have been running on the first Friday of every month, bringing up to 20,000 people each time from across the Bay Area to the KONO district of Oakland for a fantastic fiesta of art, music, food trucks, fun and celebration. A section of Oakland’s main road, Telegraph Avenue, is closed to traffic and all art galleries are open to the public with art and craft stalls, local bands and artists. The atmosphere is buzzing and the air is thick with the aroma of delicious street food. This is George Ferguson’s Make Sundays Special on steroids – an inclusive event rooted deep in the community psyche. Best of all, it truly represents the diversity of the Oakland community and provides an ideal opportunity for people to come together, an important community hub that helps to build and maintain community spirit during a time of rapid change and gentrification in the Bay Area.
The Impact Hub Oakland holds a bona fide place at the centre of this community, just one block from the action. After a productive day, I packed up my laptop and wandered out into the throng of people who were already gathering, and went on to visit a number of art galleries, watch some great local bands and meet friends for beers and burritos. A perfect end to a productive day in the Bay Area, from the true viewpoint of a local.
Impact Hub Oakland is clearly a great success. It has created the right atmosphere of energy, focus and productivity and pays testament to the fact that if you build it the right people will come. Importantly, it has its roots in the local community, and is run by a diverse and passionate group of changemakers who love Oakland and are helping it to thrive.
As I will soon be returning to Bristol to launch my freelance career, I find myself wishing Bristol had a co-working offer as great as what I experienced in Oakland. Perhaps it’s feasible! I for one, would be the first to sign up.
— Jessica Ferrow (@jessmarygreen) 4 December 2015
Editor’s note: Can’t wait to for you to get back Jess, really looking forward to you joining the team 🙂