Co-Working Space as a Social Enterprise

ACORN ACORN International Citizen Wealth Financial Justice Organizing
Jonny Butcher, head organizer of Sheffield ACORN in England welcomes members

Sheffield    Another day, more train cancellations, colder temperatures and snow flurries as the train moved north.  We had stood up from Bristol to Birmingham as all of us crowded into every nook and cranny in order to fit into the train, so it was almost a relief to finally sit and look out the window, even though we hardly got to Sheffield in time for another meeting, screening, and Q&A with ACORN members and supporters there.

We were there at the right time to talk about issues with housing, a mainstay of ACORN’s tenant union organizing in the city.  Reports indicated that housing prices had risen more rapidly in Sheffield than any other city in England, even though cities of the north have reputations of lower housing costs than elsewhere in the country.  The same reports indicated that of the new housing built in Sheffield less than 2% were affordable housing units:  97 units.  If they don’t recognize a housing crisis yet, it won’t be long before it smacks them up the side of the head.

The screening was held in an interesting venue, the Union Street Co-Working Space, a social enterprise nonprofit that has been the brainchild and labor of love of Matt Hill, who was also in the audience and has become not only ACORN’s “landlord” in Sheffield, so to speak, but a key ACORN ally and supporter.  The space was impressive.  Downstairs was a café with a coffee bar, and upstairs were conference areas, built in counters and islands for “hot” desks and regular co-workers, high speed internet, and other facilities on each floor.  Functional, not fancy.

answering questions after The Organizer screening

I talked to Matt as we all put the place back together after screening “The Organizer.”  He had been the driving force in putting Union Street together.  It was organized as a nonprofit.  I asked him how it was financed, and, having just seen the movie, he replied, “Like ACORN, through memberships.”  That was fascinating, because clearly, it had taken a small pile of pounds to bring this vision into reality.  For him to have put in the work to make it happen as a nonprofit, compared to so many of these similar spaces around the world which are big, blaring commercial enterprises taking advantage of young people and embryonic dreams and startups, was very exciting.

Were there hopes and dreams of expanding, I asked.  Matt, said, yes, indeed.  Look for something like this in your city in the UK if you lucky, and elsewhere if people want to see a real model that is working for lots of people.  I left him with a promise to help, if we could, signed a copy of Nuts & Bolts for him, recognizing another kindred spirit in Sheffield.

Union Street co-working space