Champions of Separation - ARC Club

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

The Arc Club Team.

From left: Caro Lundin, Lucy Harrison, Nina Franco, Hannah Philp, Martin Kejser

Photo: Jermaine Francis

As the UK is easing up on the Covid19 lockdown a new flexible workspace, ARC Club opened its doors for business for the first time. Founded by Hannah Philp and Caro Lundin, the space is located in London’s East End - Homerton to be exact and is the inaugural Club, in what the founders hope to be the first of many.

As a lot of us have experienced — flexible working in terms of when, where and how — has completely changed as a result of quarantine. With the relaxation of the pandemic restrictions; shops, restaurants, hairdressers are all beginning to reopen but with social distancing measures in place. This has been the case for many countries across the globe and if there are no significant spikes indicating a threat in the coming months, it is likely organisations too will begin to re-open their workplaces and offices. But do we really want to return to ‘old’ ways of working now that we have witnessed the malleability in which we can all operate and function? Alternatives, options, some degree of autonomy over how we work definitely feels empowering and surely ‘flexibility’ is the way forward?

Commercial Semiotician & Cultural Analyst, Ashley Mauritzen is ARC Club’s Head of Communication and joined the team in December 2019. The original launch of the Homerton site was planned for April this year… we all know how that story goes. ARC had to reorganise with Ashley quickly adapting the comms plan, all the while continuing to promote their offering and space.

Renee: Ashley, a rather unexpected barrier to launching earlier this year which must have been disappointing, but on the 4th July ARC Club opened its doors - congratulations! I’d love to know more about how ARC came about and it’s rallying cry that ‘coworking is the new ‘workplace revolution’?

Photo: Andrew Meredith

Ashley: ARC Club was born out of an awareness that more and more people were working alone — whether remotely or for themselves — without any structure in place to support them. I spent over a decade freelancing before joining ARC, and although I maintained a busy practice and loved what I did, I struggled with feeling isolated and like I was somehow less of a professional than my office-based peers. Hiring a desk in a studio did little to lessen the loneliness of the experience – and the existing co-working solutions were either too expensive or felt more like a social club than a functional environment.

Photo: Nina Franco

At ARC Club, we want to make coworking accessible; shaped by and able to meet everyday people’s needs. And the need is greater than ever before with more and more of us set to work remotely in the aftermath of Covid-19. The widespread change in working practices promised by telecommuting advocates way back in the 70s is, finally, coming true. But we need to take steps to ensure this change works for everyone, and that disconnect, imposter syndrome and difficulty juggling work and life responsibilities in the same space (problems so well known to freelancers) don’t become widespread ones.

R: It is definitely a struggle to switch off at the end of the day (I have problems defining what time that actually is). A shared working space creates that structure - you get up and leave at the end of the day.

What is on offer at ARC Club, who is it for and can you walk me through the space?

A: ARC Club is for anyone in need of a professional environment in which to get their best work done. That is the absolute core of our offering — and everything in our space is designed to facilitate it. We provide everything you would expect from an office — free printing and scanning, meeting rooms with conferencing equipment, bottomless filter coffee — in a warm minimalist interior, designed to help people feel comfortable and focus. And we’ve done it at a low cost, which makes us considerably less expensive than your average London desk.

We’re on the ground floor (both physically and attitudinally) making us an easy space to manage physical distancing in post-Covid. Our open plan interior contains different seats for different kinds of work, from the relaxed atmosphere of our large tables to the hush of our library to our Canteen breakout space. People pay monthly to bring their laptop in and grab a spot. My personal highlights are the ARC yellow bathrooms, the way the sun warms the wood of our window tables and the nostalgic smell of our linoleum-covered desks.

Photo: Andrew Meredith

R: The space is beautiful, you can see it’s been designed for functionality but also absorbs the inspiring aesthetic.

Photo: Andrew Meredith

There is a real sense of community and connection within ARC’s purpose and values - how is this embedded in the space and how you function as an organisation?

A: We’re first and foremost a neighbourhood workplace, operating in residential areas like Homerton. We hope to provide a shared local space in which people can get to know the people who live near them — even if it’s just to nod at across a worktable. I think people have surprised themselves with the way they came together during the pandemic — and we are eager to keep that energy going.

The last thing we wanted to do was to be a ‘members only’ organisation, which is why we have a Canteen that serves takeaway drinks and snacks.

We’re also available for event hire and offer free use of our space to charities and community organisations outside work hours. We’ve been getting to know our business neighbours too and are partnering with some of them to offer discounts to our members.

Remote working represents an opportunity to fundamentally rethink how we inhabit cities. The pandemic proves that we don’t need to travel into the centre from home to get work done.

We finally have the opportunity to both live and work in the same place in a way that people haven’t done in a very long time. It may just be that working digitally has provided us with the means to belong more to a real world shared place.

R: I definitely have been enjoying the working in my lived environment. It means when I actually shut my laptop, I can nip down to the seafront for a walk. In the past it would have been dark by the time I arrived back from my 1hr 15mins homeward journey. It has made a huge difference to feeling connected to where I’m living (and also working).

As we are beginning to emerge from essential ‘home working’ — do ARC sense, have had discussions with communities or data as to what alternatives people want from the two current options: ’home working’ and the ‘commute / office / commute’?

A: What has become very clear is that there is no one-size-fits all solution to work. Working from home and working in an office both have their pros and cons (although you’d be hard pressed to find anyone advocating for the benefits of a 45 minute-plus commute).

Working from home lets you set your own hours and creates more time for friends and family. On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for the motivational benefits of an office and the potential for serendipitous connection and co-creation that that affords.

Photo: Andrew Meredith

The answer is that people want to enjoy the benefits of both, flexibly. Accessibility is key to making this possible, which is what we hope to provide with our neighbourhood workplace; a professional space, which people can build into their routine (rather than building their days around their commute). It also needs to be affordable, if people are to feel like they can come and go. By putting functionality first, we’ve done everything we can to offer value at ARC. We want it to be a solution that people can actually use.

R: Choice is so powerful and warrants autonomy. I think many of us have experienced this as a result of the pandemic.

ARC are self-confessed 'champions of separation - not falling into the work-life-blur contributing to a happier workforce to bring about meaningful change.’ Not wanting to keep coming back to lockdown but I think it is fair to say ‘work-life-blur’ is a very real and lived experienced by many people. I’d love to hear more about ARC’s stance on being a ‘champion of separation’ in the context of work and life?

A: Getting away from work is hard enough at the best of times – and almost impossible when you work from home. We don’t pretend to have all the answers — after all, that’s between you and the inbox on your smartphone — but we can provide a structure that people can use to help them draw a line around their working day.

One thing we’ve found from talking to people about their work habits during lockdown is how many of them were integrating an artificial ‘commute’ into their routine — whether that was ten minutes on the balcony or a walk around the block. We’re not anti-commute at ARC Club; on the contrary, we think there are real psychological benefits to putting some physical distance between yourself and work. We call it ‘clocking on and clocking off’ in a deliberate throwback to when work-life separation was taken for granted.

R: That's brilliant — I've just realised that watering my tomato plants is my new routine substitute for the morning commute - I'm living the dream!

ARC are aiming to open more sites across London, what are the plans and any developments underway?

A: Yes, we have plans to open more sites in residential areas next year. The warm minimalist interior of ARC Club Homerton is designed to be replicable across other vacant real estate, combining the shell of the existing space with ‘plug in and play’ modular elements in birch ply and our own bespoke ARC furniture, all designed by our Creative Director, Caro. That may seem fast but the way people work is changing quickly too.

Photo: Andrew Meredith

R: Super exciting! How are you celebrating the launch of ARC Club Homerton with the community and members?

A: We occupy the commercial space of a residential block and the first thing we did when we opened was introduce ourselves to our neighbours and invite them to come and see the space. We’re hosting a physically-distant get-together for them and our members on Sunday 26th July.

R: Amazing — I love that you reached out to your ‘neighbours’ I think this is overlooked so often when business move into an area.

What is in the calendar at ARC for the coming months?

A: Suffice to say, we’ve torn up a few calendars this year already. Who hasn’t? But we look forward to, at the very least, providing our first members with a place to focus and feel professional over the summer, offering events — from professional networking to open workshops — as and when we are able to do so responsibly. Watch this space.

Photo: Andrew Meredith

R: Thanks Ashley, I’m very much looking forward to popping in for AllPress Espresso sometime in the near future.

You can find more information, get in contact or organise a tour of ARC Club Homerton via their website and connect with them via Instagram @arc_club_.

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