Fabrizio Nicola-Giordano
Image Source: Headspace Group

Is Belfast the UK’s newest coworking hub?

It’s been an eventful year for the coworking sector – we’ve seen continued growth on one hand, coupled with some major players getting into difficulty. What’s clear is that coworking has emerged as a major segment of the UK’s commercial property market. It now accounts for 10-20% of leasing activity in London and we are beginning to see more and more coworking hubs developing across the UK - Belfast being a key example.

Despite ongoing concerns about the economy and uncertainty about the potential impact of Brexit, Belfast’s commercial property market is in rude health. Just this month a major new office development was announced by Heron Bros, which will transform 200,000 square feet of office space and reportedly bring 2,000 jobs to the city. This time last year it was reported by CBRE that the Northern Irish office market had enjoyed a 100% increase in take up rates.

Against this backdrop there are exciting things happening within the coworking sector, with more and more operators setting up shop in the city. Headspace launched a space around a year ago and we followed in the footsteps of spaces such as The Foundry, Glandore and Ormeau Baths, as well as innovation centres such as Catalyst. These developments will help cement Belfast’s position as a thriving hub for startups and attract more exciting businesses to the city.

The city already has a lot to offer young, ambitious businesses: from a fast-growing venture capital scene to impressive FinTech credentials. One report by the Enterprise Research Centre found that Belfast outperforms the rest of the UK on various startup metrics, including productivity, attracting foreign investment and scale-up success.

Yet at the same time, for many years the city has faced an issue of losing digital talent to other big cities and startup hubs across Europe such as London, Berlin, Amsterdam (the ‘digital diaspora’ as some have called it). Having suitable workspaces can go a long way towards attracting and retaining a vibrant young workforce; the emphasis that coworking spaces place on forming communities for their members can play a crucial role in supporting local startups.

Moreover, Belfast is well placed to benefit from a more modern approach to workspace. Office space is comparatively cheap compared with the likes of Dublin, Manchester and London. It also remains relatively traditional: five-year leases, with stringent parameters, where tenants are expected to spend a large amount of capital fitting out and redecorating the space to a level that complements their business.

For fast growing businesses that require maximum flexibility, this just isn’t suitable and that’s true not just for startups and freelancers, but also big corporations who are increasingly adopting a savvier use of their real estate. Our own tenant base ranges from fledgling startups to tech unicorns and major PLCs, and it’s been well reported that major companies such as IBM are embracing elements of the coworking model.

In short, attitudes towards workspaces have changed rapidly in recent years and more and more businesses are opting for coworking spaces in order to attract the right talent, network and collaborate with other like-minded businesses in a well-designed, sociable space. Following a raft of new openings, Belfast is the latest regional hub to be benefitting from this trend.

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