Coming Full Circle: A Weird Career That Starts And Ends With White City
By Gemma Church
I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d argue that I still don’t and I definitely don’t have a traditional career path. And (despite the marriage, mortgage and two children) I’m resisting the whole process of growing up as much as possible (mainly by explaining science with Lego, which has been surprisingly popular).
I now work as “the freelance writer who gets tech”. It’s a bit cheesy, but this tagline covers my knowledge and experience quite well — I’m a specialist writer in the science and technology sectors. And, because of years of indecision when it came to picking a job, I’ve unwittingly built up quite a solid CV for the work I now do, and love.
The weird career
After completing my Physics degree, I left York University in 2004 and I started work for Reuters on their tech grad scheme. I was posted all around London, and ended my 12-month tenure with the company in Canary Wharf. The corporate world was not for me — so I went to Cambridge University where I completed another Physics degree.
I soon realised academia was not for me either. Panic set in. Everyone else seemed so sure of their career journeys and I was floundering. I was also turning down opportunities with blue chip companies and one of the best universities in the world because “it didn’t feel right” — you can imagine how thrilled my parents were.
I was soon thrown a lifeline in the form of Cambridge University’s science magazine — BlueSci. I started writing for them and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, I applied for some work experience at the BBC to get a flavour for the media industry.
I completed one month’s work experience for Auntie’s flagship science programme Horizon during my degree — and this was my first taste of White City. After leaving Cambridge, I returned to the BBC and White City as a runner on the science and history floor in the summer of 2006.
“Welcome” to White City
I always had high expectations whenever I started a new role. At Cambridge, I remember the disappointment of the famous Cavendish Laboratories, which were (and still are) a haphazard arrangement of concrete-clad 1970s buildings. It wasn’t quite the grandeur my ego demanded. (I soon had a quiet word with myself — it was a fascinating place to be and I learnt never to judge a book — or building — by its cover.)
The same disappointment loomed at White City. It didn’t help that, at Reuters, I’d been working in the company’s brand spanking new office in Canary Wharf. I could waft around the wharf in my lunch break visiting the various shops, pubs and facilities on offer. And I’d then return to my immaculately designed office with a view to kill for.
White City (in 2006) was a little bleak. There were few facilities and it felt like I was on the outskirts of the city — and completely separate from the London life that I’d grown so fond of. Every time I wanted to meet with friends, I had to trek over to East London. The highlight of my lunch hour (hour? 10 minutes, usually) was a trip to Tesco Metro.
Again, I had a word with myself. This was the BBC — the jewel in the crown of broadcasting. Yet, on one particularly depressing day, I found myself being screamed at because I’d ordered the wrong shade of Post-it notes (what sort of a moron would get pastel shades when the production team so OBVIOUSLY use fluorescent hues?!?).OK, this was a low point and an exception.
There were many highlights during my time at the BBC — from the tantalising glimpses of the props department at Television Centre (Daleks are just as scary off camera) to the challenge of sourcing a range of weird and wonderful objects during shoots (do you know where to find something that “looks a bit like a cryogenic chamber” in Covent Garden?) — or just getting the lunch order right for a 50-strong hangry TV crew.
The days passed in a caffeine-fueled haze and my time as a BBC runner was one of those formative experiences that I still remember fondly. But I couldn’t help feel the atmosphere at White City was at odds with my other experiences of working in London — and the fun I was having at the BBC (Post-it notes aside).
White City was just a bit lacklustre.
When I stepped out of the office, I aimed straight for the Tube stop. This wasn’t the sort of place I really enjoyed being when the working day was over. It felt like everyone had a better place to be. Unlike the creative souls working in White City, the space itself lacked soul and imagination.
After a few months, I accepted a job with another company as a business and technology journalist over in (you guessed it) East London. I left White City — for what I thought would be the last time.
The geek years
The next 10 years were just as chaotic for my career. I continued working as a tech journalist in London and then back in Cambridge. I started writing more and more about software development, dabbled with code on the side and, before I knew it, I landed a job with a Cambridge startup as a web developer.
I immersed myself in web development, and continued writing as a sideline to keep my skills sharp and bring a bit more money in. Then, in 2015, demand for my freelance writing suddenly snowballed. I took the plunge, left the Cambridge software development scene, and set up as the freelance writer who gets tech.
Fast forward to 2017
It’s taken 13 long years since I graduated from York, but I’ve finally found a career that I love.
The reason freelance writing works so well for me is that I can choose what I work on and who I work with. And the more clients I work with — the more seem to come my way. That snowball is now an avalanche.
Last year, I got a call from the lovely team at freelance bank account fintech Coconut asking me to write a couple of blog posts for them. I, of course, said yes (they didn’t seem to have any hangups about Post-it notes).
So, Coconut were my first port of call on a recent piece about Fintechs and coworking as I knew they were based at Huckletree’s Shoreditch site.
And, thanks to Coconut, another connection was made as Huckletree then called to ask me to write about their new, exciting coworking space… in White City.
I’m back. And this time it’s personal
So, after 11 years, I found myself on my way to White City to meet the Huckletree team. I’d read all the promotional material on their new coworking space and the White City Place development — but was I going to be counting the minutes until I could hop back on the Tube again?
No. Stepping out of the Tube station, I was first greeted by a petrol station that’s been turned into an art installation where some sort of fashion shoot was taking place. I then got a tantalising waft of a barbecue and heard some distant music before Imperial College’s impressive building work on its White City campus caught my eye.
On approach to White City Place, the square was filled with people enjoying lunch from the food market and a chap with a guitar singing a rather good rendition of “It Must Be Love”.
Well, White City, it well could be love. The buildings don’t look that different — but the transformation in atmosphere is dramatic. The hustle and bustle was so wonderful to see and experience — but the truly exciting development is the mix of businesses that now work (or will work) in West London. It’s morphing into an exciting hub of innovation and creativity.
The BBC, Red Bee, the Royal College of Art, Nurture and Net-A-Porter all have bases here — and plenty more businesses are flocking to the area, including ITV and satellite telecoms company OneWeb. There’s an Oliver Bonas and fitness studios Studio Lagree and F45. Tesco Metro is also still there too, alongside Starbucks.
And there’s the new Huckletree West coworking space — which I got a sneak peek of before it opens in September.
Now, I can’t give too much away, but the Huckletree West site really is quite wonderful. It will most definitely enhance the community that White City Place has started to foster.
And that’s a really key point. Some coworking spaces feel like just another souped up Starbucks. They’re too eager to put as many bums on seats in a space as possible, so they don’t think beyond what they can offer coworkers other than a desk, some wifi and a bottomless supply of tea.
Huckletree West bucks the trend. First, it’s chuffing massive. There will be room for 500 coworkers. And when I say room, I mean plenty of room for you to enjoy the space with sunken seating, a peaceful garden area and other breakout areas dominating the space — there’s even a meditation yurt. There’s a fantastic emphasis on wellness too (with weekly yoga and boxing classes planned), childcare facilities, light-filled offices, dedicated desks, hot desks, an events area, a VR Studio… the list goes on.
The fit of Huckletree with White City Place couldn’t be better. The strong stance on community from both means you don’t just get a space to work — you get a space you want to work in.
And that’s not something I thought I’d ever say about White City. But, just like my career, so much has changed and improved in the last 10 years.
The Huckletree West site echoes the wider White City environment. It’s a vibrant space, where you can get real work done, but still kick back with like-minded souls to create something special. It feels like real innovation is going to happen here.