In Conversation with Beth Lewis from The Projects

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The Projects is a collaborative, co-working space that hosts just under 200 member companies (including Brighton Journal). We spoke with operations manager, Beth Lewis, to find out more about the company, their mission, and how they are dealing with the current national crisis.

 

Beth Lewis, Operations Manager at The Projects

She also announced The Projects’ new virtual community set to launch at the beginning of next week. Take a look!

 

Firstly, I asked Beth how and when The Projects got started:

We got started in December 2018 and it was basically a response to the lack of really good quality office space. Quite a lot of people end up having to commute to go to London and think that their businesses need to be conducted in London, and that’s pretty much because in Brighton there isn’t a lot of good space. So, we wanted a kind of members club – a really amazing, luxurious space where members would be really proud to bring their clients and have meetings and all of those things.

So we got started and we found a really beautiful grade 2 listed building in Ship St. It was a solicitors office and we completely gutted the two buildings and completely renovated it and now we have a really beautiful space that we’re really proud of.

 

We then spoke about her fellow team members and what roles they each take on to keep The Projects going:

It’s a really tiny team – we do a lot!

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There’s me, I’m the operations manager and I kind of try and act as the central focal point so that everything comes through me. So I end up looking after a lot of, well, all of the members, and my team.

Then we have Sophia who works on front of house and she also does all of our social media and our marketing. We’ve got Lucy who is our interior designer and she also does front of house as well, so we all have dual roles.

I was hired by my boss who asked me to run it and set it all up and Sophia and Lucy have been AMAZING in getting everything up and running and sorted.

That’s it for the in-house team, but the help doesn’t stop there:

Then we have a wonderful team of self employed people that we work with to help us and guide us. We have a local chapman who helps us with some of our marketing and our events, and we have Stu and Ollie from Creative Bloom who help us with some of our digital marketing as well. We also have lots and lots of people who help with cleaning of the property and all of those things.

So although in-house we’re quite a small team, we work with so many people all over Brighton to kind of keep us going and keep us in a happy community.

 

Next, Beth explained how many member companies they have at the moment and what types of work they do from The Projects space:

We have just under 200 member companies and it really really really varies. So we have graphic designers, we have writers, we have diamond merchants, we have such a variety. What I really love about The Projects is that we have such a variety of ages, industries, it’s such a nice mix of people who all kind of blend really well together.

The only thing that really kind of unites us is that everybody is really happy to collaborate, everybody wants to support each other, and everybody wants each other’s businesses to really thrive and grow.

 

The Projects is a dog friendly space which can be a hard find, so I asked Beth about their decision to go down that route:

Ah, this is something that we were really umming and ahing about because although our space is built across four floors and it’s across two buildings, they’re quite narrow spaces because it’s a grade 2 listed building. We wanted to make sure everybody could stay really productive and have professional spaces but also recognise that we’re looking after people as a whole, and their pet friends are a very important part of that.

We decided to go dog friendly part way through 2019 and have absolutely never looked back. We think that it calms people down having their dogs, and just for morale it’s so lovely. Obviously we’re having quite a unique time at the moment with people being in isolation and even just in our Projects community, people sending each other pictures of their pets is so lovely and it’s just a little morale booster. So, we’re definitely going to be dog friendly for… forevermore!

 

Working with so many different people is sure to create some amazing moments. I asked Beth about some of her favourite stand out occasions: 

There’s been some amazing moments! Most recently, in response to the support from the government, or maybe lack of support from the government for the self employed and small business owners, we just hosted our self employed summit. This is highlighting the gaps there are for self employed people and looking at the overall uncertainty and difficult arena that self employed people find themselves in. We hosted that with Caroline Lucas, Phil Jones from Wired Sussex [full list of participants available at start of video linked above], and it was a really beneficial way for us to unite as a common voice in support of the self employed and to be able to lobby the government further.

Other than that, some of the events that we’ve done have been really amazing. Every six months we do an art exhibition with creative differences market and we promote local artist’s work to people who they might not necessarily get an audience with. Those have been amazing as well. We do that totally charitably, we don’t take any money from that whatsoever.

 

The events are great, but building a community is the best, says Beth:

I think the main thing has been watching our community move and grow and support each other and lean on each other. As a fairly new community, you know, we’re just over a year old, we’ve been really lucky that the Projects is totally independent so we don’t have shareholders to speak to and, you know, a big board to talk to so we’re able to adapt and grow and move with our membership community. I think each day has been a stand out which I know is a really cheesy thing to say but I love how we all adapt and move together.

 

Co-working spaces are becoming increasingly popular, so I asked Beth what sets The Projects apart from the rest:

Well, there’s a few things.

I think the location is a number one – being right in the heart of what makes Brighton… Brighton! Being right in the heart of the lanes is amazing. We’re about 10 seconds away, walking, from the seafront, which is just so nice.

The space itself – to be able to offer really reasonable prices that startups and small businesses can afford at this really beautiful, luxury, heritage space is amazing.

Like I say, being independent – we are able to adapt and grow and curate and craft out membership benefits so that what our members need we’re able to offer them.

The community itself – we’re so lucky to have such a wonderful, innovative, highly creative, supportive community who are really solid. Even now when we’re separated everyone’s still looking after each other and giving advice and giving learning resources and tools and it’s just been really wonderful to watch.

 

The coronavirus crisis has impacted all of our lives in one way or another. Co-working spaces are obviously unable to operate at the moment due to government guidelines put in place to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus.

So, I asked Beth how they’re coping and what steps they’re taking in response:

Well obviously it’s really difficult. For the projects itself as a business, we’ve kind of slipped through the net as a co-working space in terms of how the government is supporting us. Not to get too into detail about all the different financial support tools that the government are offering, but basically hospitality businesses are being given rent relief and grants and everything like that, and same with retail, and The Projects is a physical space, a co-working space, that’s receiving no government support whatsoever just by the nature of the building. So we’re lobbying with Wired Sussex and with a lot of other people for the government to change that.

The main thing to us is, you know we’re a physical space, but most importantly we’re a community that should and has to continue even when we’re not all in the same building. It was really important to us from the offset to keep in constant communication with our community, continue to offer the same events and support that did in the physical building but now we’re doing it virtually. For example, we did a virtual pub quiz and we sent out beers to all of our members so that they could still have a drink and do a virtual quiz with us.

We’re still doing our yoga classes, we’re doing online SEO workshops, digital marketing workshops, and loads and loads of things and just collaborating and supporting each other as much as we can. As well as, as I mentioned before, uniting voices outside of The Projects community and outside of Brighton & Hove to make sure that there’s as much support for the self employed and small businesses as possible.

 

Every brand has a mission, so I asked Beth what The Projects’ mission is:

Our mission is to make Brighton be seen as a professional and serious place to be conducting business. As I said before, so many clients or other businesses think that London is the only place to do business, and that’s simply not true. We’ve got such productive, creative, innovative workforce here in Brighton and we want to be a members club for those people to be able to conduct their businesses and grow. We exist to support them in any way that we possibly can.

 

We are all waiting to get to the other side of this crisis and looking forward to moving on once the restrictions can be safely lifted. I asked Beth what The Projects’ team has in store for the future:

For us, what really sets us apart is being able to offer more of a premium service than maybe other co-working spaces. So, we are seeing how we can continue to support our members in all aspects of their lives whether that’s work or rest or play.

We have plans at the moment to launch our gym, and that will be included in our membership for the team. We’ve also got plans to expand within Brighton.

It’ll be really interesting because after all of this has happened, we foresee a growth in co-working because so many larger businesses who ask their teams to commute in and go to London or go to wherever will realise that the cost of running these huge office spaces might not be beneficial. To make sure that their teams can stay together remotely but still offer that community aspect, people will be leaning towards co-working.

We’re going to see a big growth in the co-working brand but just need to get over this first. It’ll be really interesting to see how businesses shift and adapt and respond to this because no one’s ever seen this before so I think co-working spaces will grow if they can grit their teeth and get through these next few months. We plan to continue to offer a really great service with beautiful spaces for our members and members to come.

 

After answering all my questions, I asked Beth if she had anything she would like to add. She was very excited to announce The Projects’ new virtual community that’s set to launch at the beginning of next week:

Next week [Monday 20th April] we’re launching our online virtual community so we will be able to offer very similar services as we did in our physical building but just to a wider membership. So, that will be unlimited access to all of our events and resources, small business support tools, and access to all of our social events in which we often send out fun packs like we did for our pub quiz.

You can sign up to a virtual membership package which is available to the wider public. That’s something we’re really excited to be able to adapt to what’s going on at the moment.

 

To learn more about The Projects, visit their website: https://the-projects.space/

Or find them on social media:

Instagram – @theprojectsbtn

Twitter – @theprojectsbtn

Facebook – @theprojectsbtn

All Images © The Projects

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