Belfast Telegraph

Co-working boom will attract more businesses to city

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By Fabrizio Nicola-Giordano, managing director, Headspace Group

Despite reports of Northern Ireland's sluggish economic growth (not to mention concerns about the potential impact of Brexit), there are still a number of encouraging developments taking place within Belfast.

Last year the Northern Ireland office market reportedly enjoyed a 100% increase in take-up rates, according to CBRE.

This goes hand-in-hand with something of a boom in the number of co-working spaces opening up. These changes will help cement Belfast's position as a thriving hub for start-ups and attract more exciting businesses to the city.

Belfast already has a huge amount to offer young, ambitious businesses. Much has been written about the city's fast-growing venture capital scene and fintech credentials.

One report by the Enterprise Research Centre found that Belfast outperforms the rest of the UK on various start-up metrics, including productivity, attracting foreign investment and scale-up success.

Office space is also comparatively cheap compared with the likes of Dublin, Manchester and London, so perhaps it's no surprise that there has been a raft of new co-working spaces opening in recent years.

Headspace is the latest to launch in the city (last month), adding to our existing portfolio of spaces in London, Manchester and Birmingham, and we follow in the footsteps of spaces such as The Foundry, Glandore and Ormeau Baths, as well as innovation centres such as Catalyst.

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These are positive developments, yet, in many ways, Belfast's commercial property market 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 start-ups and freelancers, but also big corporations who are increasingly adopting a savvier use of their real estate.

Our own tenant base ranges from fledgling start-ups to tech unicorns and major PLCs, and it's been well reported that major companies such as IBM are embracing elements of the co-working model.

Attitudes towards workspaces have changed rapidly in recent years and more and more businesses are opting for co-working spaces in order to attract the right talent, network and collaborate with other like-minded businesses in a well-designed, sociable space.

One of the issues facing Belfast has been that of its 'digital diaspora' - losing digital talent to other big cities and start-up hubs across Europe (London, Berlin, Amsterdam). However, having suitable workspace can go a long way towards attracting and retaining a vibrant young workforce.

Indeed, there's evidence to suggest that workspace is now a major consideration for employees.

The emphasis that co-working spaces place on forming communities for their members will support Belfast's already fast-growing start-up scene and, as the city's office space evolves from traditional to the modern, flexible, co-working model, its economy in due course.

Belfast Telegraph

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