Not many co-working spaces can say they existed before the term ‘co-working’ became a popular phrase used to describe shared office space. In fact, The Melting Pot has been offering freelancers somewhere to work, collaborate and thrive for more than 11 years.
Situated in the heart of Edinburgh’s bustling city centre, The Melting Pot was the first co-working space in Scotland and one of the first in Europe. So, to find out more about their journey, I sat down head of collaboration, Samantha Hulls.
“Our founder, Claire Carpenter, had an idea about creating a hub, a central space where people could come and go as they needed,” Samantha tells me as we sit down on the sofa in one of the cosy breakout booths.
“Claire has always worked for herself and wanted to find a solution of not paying for a desk at an office 365 days a year that you can’t afford or will not use all time. She also wanted to create a place to work where you can also get support, talk and collaborate even with other solo self-employed people, see friendly faces and not face the isolation of working from home.”
With a group of volunteers, Claire built the concept, the business, sourced funding and opened The Melting Pot’s doors back in October 2007.
Samantha admits it was not an easy ride at the beginning, saying: “It took a long time to sell this idea to people that no-one had every heard of before. The word co-working wasn’t really used in that way.
“We’ve learned a lot a long with way, much of it through trial and error. But through hard work, building a community and creating something that people actually needed as helped us and their businesses thrive.
“We noticed that about five years ago was when the term co-working really started to become more popular – people were actually searching for it. And that made things easier certainly. But in the last two years particularly, we’ve seen an increase in people’s awareness of what we do.”
The Melting Pot has around 180 members now, which include solo freelancers to charities and social enterprises. The space offers a mixture of hotdesks, fixed desk and virtual office membership packages and prices start from £57.50 for 25 hours a month.
Depending on the package, members can get 24/7 access to the space, access to printers, lockable desk pedestal, meeting rooms, storage facilities and up to ten hours for a guest to use the space. All packages are flexible so people can increase or decrease their hours whenever they need.
All members can also attend professional development and networking events hosted by The Melting Pot for free and have access to an online portal. The portal, which Samantha explains is an “important resource”, allows people to post on a community board, search for other members based on their skills and connect directly with people, without having to be there.
The space itself is typical of any office environment and offers all the necessities you’d expect, including fast wi-fi and most importantly, free Fairtrade tea and coffee.
This co-working space has grown exceptionally since it opened, and they have even revamped the place in the last few years to maximise the number of desks they can fit. And it is still growing says Samantha.
“When I started working here, there were four of us. Now there are 13. And where everything used to be under one roof, we’ve actually had enough success and funding to expand all areas.”
Being a pioneer of shared office spaces, The Melting Pot launched a couple of initiatives a few years ago in order to give back to the freelancing community and is now ‘Scotland’s Centre for Social Innovation’.
The first is the Co-working Accelerator Network – an initiative to help people set up their own co-working spaces. It offers support, guidance and practical resources to help business leaders run their own space.
“It is essentially about promoting quality co-working,” adds Samantha. “It is more of a movement now than just a concept, which is supported by investment from the Scottish government.
“There are lots of levels to it. We not only support organisations with setting themselves up, but also connecting with other established co-working spaces and building a community where we can share knowledge and connect.”
The Melting Pot also have a scheme called Good Ideas. Again, this is funded by the Scottish government, which has been going for six years. It supports and inspires people turning their ideas into new social enterprises, charities and campaigns through a step by step guide.
So what’s next for this co-working space?
“We’re going to keep building the Co-working Accelerator Network, working with various hubs and businesses not just in Scotland, but internationally. And as for The Melting Pot, just continuing to grow and potentially assessing in the next 12 months to see if there is room for another somewhere in Scotland.”
As far as co-working spaces, The Melting Pot is pretty standard. What makes this place stand out is the initiatives and the importance they place on supporting their freelancer community, and it is for this reason they are continuing to grow.