A workspace of one's own

Lucy Futter talks to Workingmums.co.uk about her new co-working space for women.

Lucy Futter was pregnant with her second child when she became very ill. “I couldn’t get out of bed,” she says. “I went into a panic. I had just left a job and I had never not worked. I needed to work.” She was wondering what she could do. She talked to her dad about her different options. He had just listened to a radio item about co-working.

That set Lucy thinking and she decided to embrace her time out of work as an opportunity rather than a cause for anxiety.  Just under a year later she has just opened the Workstead, her highly flexible co-working space which aims to support and inspire women in business who want to work close to home.

Before she had children she worked as a policy and public affairs officer for a professional body in London which taught her the benefits of collaboration, networking skills and about issues around diversity, such as women returners, something that came in handy with her new role. She moved out of London to Hampshire to have her first baby as she wanted to take a step back from her career. Her job involved quite a few evening events and there would have been a long commute. “It just wouldn’t have worked for me,” she says. She took a local part-time job with a charity and a significant cut in her hourly rate, but says she hadn’t anticipated the emotional burden of constantly not feeling she was meeting other people’s expectations.

At the beginning of this year Lucy spoke to her dad who is a businessman and very supportive. He told her to put a business plan together and he would look at whether he could support it. Lucy was heavily pregnant when she did the research and financial planning for the business. Initially she considered creating a co-working space. “Winchester is quite an affluent area and fairly vibrant,” she says.

“The more research I did the more I realised that there was not much focused on women in the area,” she says. Her baby was due in April and within eight weeks of the birth she was looking for a venue and trying to bring the business plan to life. She admits to some teething problems. She hadn’t anticipated, for instance, how long it would take to secure and set up the venue. “I thought I would find somewhere in August and be up and running by the end of October. Waiting to get into the premises, once we had found them, and having to set up the business, from home with children, dogs, and the demands of family/home life [not to mention the breast feeding every couple of hours and the lack of sleep], carrying on around us was definitely the most challenging thing,” she says.

Things became slightly less stressed once the broadband was installed, although it took five weeks to get to that point.

Flexible workspace

Lucy used an ad hoc group of people who she got to know by word of mouth or through recommendations to do things like draw up the legal paperwork and set up the website. As the business was about helping women, she tried to use women to help with setting it up. 

To find the venue, she went around Winchester with a list of the key criteria she wanted it to fit. After initial difficulties getting people to understand what she wanted to do, she found a place which was managed by a local businesswoman on the outskirts of Winchester with good access to the M3 and A34 and free parking. It launched a few weeks ago with 20 desk areas, several flexible meeting areas and kitchen facilities.

All the money for the venue came from her dad. She did not want to take out a loan as she had no job to fall back on. She was also over 30 and for that reason says there were no easy options for start-up loans that fitted what she wanted to do at the time. One of her plans in the new year is to host workshops to help women businessmen access funding. “Money was the hardest thing overall for me,” she says, “because we are not a business which has any tangible product.”

Lucy has held some open evenings as well as the launch event, but will really start promoting the Workstead in earnest in January. She has also been speaking to local enterprise bodies about partnerships. She will run a programme of talks and workshops during the day, tackling issues ranging from tax to networking, and will also let the meeting area in the evenings to develop a different income stream.

She shares the workload with events and membership executive Laura Mclaughlan who used to work in Lucy’s son’s nursery. Lucy got talking to her at the nursery and found she wanted a new challenge. The added benefit is that if Lucy needs to be in the office and her children are not at nursery the day there is someone who can look after them.

Lucy has the children two days a week and her husband who is a self employed chef consultant – and helped with the catering at the launch event as well as building the toilet – has them two days. They also go to nursery.

Up until now Lucy’s routine has been fairly fluid around open days and overseeing the builders, but she says it will become more fixed in the new year.

“I’m lucky I had the freedom of not having a job to do this," she says. "I had always wanted to run my own business, but it would have been harder to do it if I had a job to go to as I would never had the confidence to take the financial risk or have had the belief that I could actually do it, but I have.”

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