Smithy Row Desk Space is the tenth and latest property development in Nottingham to be completed by social entrepreneur Robert Howie-Smith, who has become the city’s leading expert in the renovation of disused and derelict buildings for the creative sector.
The new business space, housed in listed offices once occupied by Midland Bank in Smithy Row, is aimed at Nottingham’s growing independent and creative enterprise sector and offers shared desk space plus facilities. Work spaces cost a competitive £60 per month, inclusive of wifi and utilities.
Tenants are asked to bring just one piece of equipment to complete their business set up – their chairs.
“The desks were donated to us by the city council but we point out to tenants here that they have to bring their own chairs, which is perfect for health as many people find uniform office chairs bad for their posture and comfort,” says Robert.
Smithy Row Desk Space currently offers 32 desks on two floors opposite the tourist information centre in Smithy Row. There is additional space for expansion at the centre including meeting rooms with listed features. Tenants already include Hope into Action, a charity which works with churches to provide accommodation for homeless people.
The renovation of a former bank building that has stood empty for around 20 years is the tenth property project to be completed by Robert through his social enterprise company the Howie-Smith Project.
Since 2007 he has also brought back to life four disused properties in Station Street, including the former hardware store which is now run as Hopkinsons vintage market. In addition he has developed The Corner in Stoney Street and provided the spaces now used by Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham Writers’ Studio and City Arts’ new offices in Hockley.
Robert’s idea for Smithy Row Desk Space began when he provided eight desks at The Corner. When these were all taken within a few weeks – tenants include writers, photographers and a yoga instructor – he was convinced that there was a further demand for affordable business desk space in the city centre.
In general, Robert’s unique property development model is guided by the ethical principle of wanting to provide development spaces for creative enterprises who would otherwise struggle to afford city centre rents.
The process usually involves inexpensively renovating unpromising empty and sometimes derelict buildings that would otherwise have been left standing empty.
The benefit to landlords is that they begin to receive rental income and see their properties brought back to life; the benefit to tenants is that they get the opportunity to grow their businesses in central and sometimes quirky affordable office spaces.
“Artists and creative people have always benefited from being able to access affordable space and today there are have a huge range of people such as dance instructors, photographers, writers, visual artists and many others in Nottingham’s burgeoning creative sector who have a chance to develop their careers in properties that we have brought back to life,” says Robert.
He adds: “The approach to each building and landlord is different. But the big issue for me behind all the negotiations is that we are able to provide new opportunities through the reuse of existing buildings. There’s an important conservation issue there since it reduces the need to build new properties on green spaces. I also work with a trusted team of builders and through the various projects have been able to provide jobs and apprenticeships.”
Robert’s renovation of the former Midland Bank property into Smithy Row Desk Space means the building is once again being used for the purpose it was intended: offices. But, this time around, workers get to choose exactly how they can sit back during the working day.