We visited the historic English city of Nottingham and sat down with The Co-Working Club founder Jess Berry. We wanted to take the time to discover the story of the space, and how its community had been shaped
Thanks for taking the time to sit down and talk to me Jess. First off, I would love to know about your previous freelancing experience. What led you to create the Co-Working Club?
I went self-employed in 2017 as a freelance social media manager. I'd been working in a number of marketing roles prior to being self-employed, full-time, nine to five, and then started to just build some freelance work up on the side. So when I went self-employed full time, that was the first time I'd ever worked from home— hadn't even done a day before. It was a massive shock to the system for me to go from a busy team within a marketing department to being at home by myself every day.
That's the part that I found difficult and struggled with—not getting out of the house. Especially because it was in the dead of winter when I went full-time.
I hadn't, before this point, really started to develop a network of other business owners. I'd just kind of thrown myself in at the deep end. I didn't necessarily have other people to talk to about how I was feeling, which was difficult—just opening up to friends and family who were supportive but didn't necessarily understand how I was feeling. It got to the point where six months in I had to decide whether I wanted to go back into employment purely just cause I wasn't enjoying working from home and found it so difficult.
I even went along to a few job interviews but didn't feel like I was quite ready to like let go because it was a dream to take the leap and go self-employed. I wanted to stick at it a little bit longer, but I knew something had to change; overall it was making me a bit miserable. At that point, I decided to start organizing some meetups locally in Nottingham, just a few of us meeting up in a coffee shop once a week. I reached out to a couple of people that I knew at that point, and then over time it just started to grow once other people found out about it and spread the word.
Over time it started to build up and we ended up renting out a space instead of using a coffee shop. I got to the point where I was thinking about finding a permanent space for us, but that's when the pandemic hit. In terms of freelance work, I'd been freelancing this whole time, alongside starting up this community at that point. I never had it as a business idea or anything like that. It was just very organic to solve a problem that I was facing.
What made you decide to develop your coworking space around female business leaders?
I think it started to happen quite organically during that time that we were doing those casual meetups. I think I was just naturally attracting like-minded people to myself. And so I noticed, okay, this is a bit of a theme, it's a thing that's happening, why not lean into it? Because really, the whole reason why I wanted to start these meetups is because I couldn't find something that already existed in Nottingham. At the stage in my career where I was, there were a few spaces within the city, but I didn't feel like they were for me.
Female-only spaces were happening in a lot of the other cities in the UK at this point. There were some in London that I was following and I think a couple started to come around in Manchester. So I was looking at what these other spaces were doing and thinking it'd be amazing if I would be able to replicate that here in Nottingham to fill that gap and provide a welcoming and open space where like-minded women could get together? To feel as though they could share those experiences and those challenges that are female-specific.
Having listened to your podcasts, I would love to know your goals behind them when you started.
I started the podcast in 2019. It was around the time I was doing the meetups and it was an extension of what we were doing with those meetups, the kind of conversations that we were having when we got together to work every week, the common challenges and struggles that come with working from home and running a business. It was amazing how just getting together with other women who were going through the same thing, talking about it, opening up, and sharing our experiences—it's amazing how much of an impact that had.
I wanted to replicate it for those people who couldn't come along to the meetups. Something where they could just tune into the podcast, hear those similar kinds of conversations, and feel a lot less alone. Running a business can feel super isolating. Not only just because you're working from home most days, but because you are the one making so many of the decisions.
If you have a negative experience with a client that can really knock your confidence and you don't necessarily have someone else there to build you back up. By opening up about some of these topics, I really wanted to help other female business owners to feel less alone. Hopefully, it did that. I really tried to tap into some of those conversations that I wasn't seeing on other podcasts. A lot of other podcasts focus on how to start a business, whereas this wasn't instructional in that kind of way at all. It was more, okay, this is the business you're running—let's talk about some of the challenges and struggles you've had and how you've navigated them and got around them.
It’s clear from your podcasts that your approach is much more of a personal and genuine one, rather than a transactional one. How does the Co-Working Club help its members in ways beyond the purely business-centric?
I think the fact that I have very much created the Co-Working Club as a personal brand, I am front and center of the brand, people generally know who I am, that I run the club, and a bit of my backstory as well. I'm very open about sharing my struggles and challenges as well. I think showing that level of vulnerability often really helps other people again, to feel less alone at where they're at in their journey.
More often than not we've all experienced something similar at some point, and I think it just helps people to feel a lot more invested in the business and the brand.
Coming along to a coworking space by yourself can be quite out of people's comfort zones. It can be a bit scary. So I try to manage that and just present the kinds of people who are going to be here, put people's minds at ease, and just present ourselves as the welcoming space that we are.
Lastly, could you tell me about any future developments you have planned for the Co-Working Club?
I mean this has always been the big goal: having our own physical space. It's really what I've worked towards, even prior to the Co-Working Club. Back when I first went self-employed in 2017, I was struggling with working from home. For me an ideal solution would be to have a coworking space that I felt appealed to me, where I could go to work outside of the house and meet other people and all of those things that coworking spaces provide. So right from that get-go, my dream was always to provide a space like that for other people. It's been five years in the making to get to this point. And obviously, the pandemic put a huge pause on things at which point I actually created and built an online community instead.
The start of this year was when we actually opened the clubhouse, in April of 2022. It still feels really new. We're six months in at the moment and still just focused on growing the community—I think I maybe underestimated how much work was gonna go into actually getting people here. There's been such a huge shift with the pandemic in terms of people's habits. People are very used to now working from home five days a week, seeing that as the only solution and just getting on with it.
I know it's a lot more comfortable just to stay at home, but [I’m] trying to encourage people to get out and about and meet one another. So yeah, the sole focus at the moment is just growing, building the community, and getting more people to come and try it out. Being a bit more experimental in the events that we've put in on, we've had monthly events, things like networking, and we've had a business book club which is going well but expanding that into other creative workshops and collaborating with local business owners. Fully immersing ourselves within the business community and especially the small business community, primarily female-owned businesses—highlighting one another and working together.
We started this month with some lunch and learn sessions. A few business owners have put themselves forward to deliver short 45-minute sessions across lunchtime. So someone will come in and deliver a session of their choosing, which might be on marketing, web design, branding, or whatever their area of expertise is.
It's beneficial to both parties, people attending get to learn something new, and those people doing the sessions get to promote their business. We're also collaborating with other business owners in terms of putting on some creative workshops because I'm really conscious that not everything is work or business-related. I also want [these] to be an opportunity to meet people, make friends, and have fun.
I think when you work from home you miss that social side of work. That's what you mainly miss and you crave, you know, the little connection point within your day or the after-work drinks on a Friday or the Christmas party.
A smaller question, you mentioned that the online community was created before moving to the physical space. How expansive was this community at this point?
The online club was created in response to the pandemic and going into lockdown. As I said, we were at the point with the community where I was looking to get a permanent space but that was put on pause. So when we went into lockdown I just knew that people were gonna need connection and community more than ever. I would often get messages from people who were outside of Nottingham saying: “Oh I wish I had something like this near where I live” or “I live somewhere quite rural so I can't get involved in meetups or events” and things like that. That's when I decided to quickly pull something together and launch an online community.
When we were forced to be at home it was an opportunity to launch and it got off to a really great start. Basically, everyone who was part of the community here in Nottingham joined because that was the only way that we were gonna be able to communicate with each other. But it definitely picked up and grew. We got up to like a hundred members based all around the UK and even further afield than that around the world, which was amazing.
It was a great time for the online community. I was really worried because I just thought, is it ever really gonna replicate the feeling that you get when you're around other people? And I would always leave our meetups feeling really energized and buzzy and just in a good mood. I wondered whether that feeling was gonna convert online. But it really did. People were sharing openly and were there for one another during that really tough time.
Thank you so much, for taking the time out to chat with me and showing us the space. We are looking forward to following The Co-Working Clubs’ future successes, and we will definitely come around again when we are in the area!
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