[Manager] Bootstrap Company and the greater meaning of community

Meet Matt Events and Communication officer at Bootstrap Company

Meet Matt

Our coworking journey brought us several times to London. During our first exploration journey in the city, we met and interviewed Sara, a freelance illustrator who created a great project called Illustratour. We visited her in the coworking space Bootstrap Company. The space had such a good vibe we got triggered to learn more. To do so we asked Matt, the Events and Communication officer at Bootstrap Company to tell us about Bootstrap’s community.

Hi Matt, can you please tell us a bit about you? What’s your background and whats your daily occupation at Bootstrap Company?

Hi 👋 my names Matt and I’m the Events and Communications Officer here at Bootstrap Company. I graduated from the University of Nottingham in 2014 and then completed a post-grad course in social innovation called Year Here. During Year Here I went to a food waste party, a brewery opening and attended a workshop in a French cafe. When I found out that all of these were linked by one organisation, Bootstrap Company, I had to get in touch!

Now about Bootstrap Company, we are quite curious to hear the story on how and why it started?

Bootstrap Company was founded in 1977 by Helen Evans and Martin McEnery. They’d experienced success setting up a multiracial co-operative housing association for low income families and by 1977 the project was so successful they decided to see if the same concept could be applied to employment creation.

Despite resistance at the time from Islington and Hackney Councils they registered ‘Bootstrap Company’ as a charity and set themselves up on Conewood Street, Islington, in a converted dairy. They started workshops in toy making, knitting and bike repair, providing space, advice, a creche and some financial support.

Soon they needed to scale and in 1980 Bootstrap was given funding and moved to the Print House on Ashwin Street in Dalston and that’s where we can be found working today.

You said earlier Bootstrap started in 1977, how did your main mission evolved since then?

Our mission has evolved slightly over the past 39 years from the very early days helping disadvantaged people into work and enterprise support is still at the core of what we do.

Today our mission is split into four main parts: providing workspace, events and community spaces, enterprise support and training and employability. Given the broad spectrum of work that we do here in Hackney there is naturally some crossover between these parts of our mission and this fuels our drive for Bootstrap to be ‘Where Community Works’.

We offer our tenants business support and training whilst also programming a number of community events on Dalston Roof Park, in our WWII bunker and in the Bootyard.

How is the business model of Bootstrap structured?

In June 2016 Hackney Council reviewed the rent Bootstrap pays here on Ashwin Street.

The gravity of this rental increase forced an abrupt change in business model for Bootstrap, with the only viable option to secure the organisation’s future being to shift tenant rents up to current market rates. This was a difficult decision that was born out of necessity and the need to survive in an environment where London’s commercial property prices continue to rise drastically.

In response to the rent review, Bootstrap has changed it’s business model to commit 60% of our surplus to the ‘Bootstrap Fund’ — a subsidy pot that tenants are invited to apply for to reduce their rent based upon their social impact.

Applications for the Bootstrap Fund are based on the following criteria:

  • Community & Diversity — ensuring that Bootstrap, Dalston & Hackney are thriving and diverse communities
  • Training, Employability & Education — delivering projects & services that support marginalized groups to develop professionally or personally
  • Cultural Economy — contributing to the cultural economy with work of high quality and high public engagement, preferably in the local area
  • Poverty Reduction — creating jobs, supporting higher living standards and increasing social mobility

The first round of the Bootstrap Fund has funded 42 individual enterprises, sustaining 131 jobs and supporting 26,000 beneficiaries through the work of the supported tenants.

The Bootstrap Fund allows us to provide affordable workspace for those most in need.

How does Bootstrap contributes to bringing together the local community of Dalston, Hackney?

We have our very own community organiser, Kirsty, who works extensively with the local community to bring them into Bootstrap and involve them with our tenant body. Kirsty has hosted a plethora of community events on Dalston Roof Park as well as in the Bootyard — our community enterprise hub where tenants are housed in shipping containers.

Last year Kirsty ran a competition to find an extra tenant for the Bootyard. The winner was Cold & Blac — a tenant who produces cold brew coffee liqueur. They now work alongside 40FT Brewery and the Dusty Knuckle Bakery in the Bootyard, which used to be an abandoned car park.

We also work closely with local young people to help them set up their own businesses through our Enterprise Bootcamp programmes.

We are curious to know more about the coworking space, can you tell us a bit about that?

When Bootstrap moved here to Dalston in 1980 we were London’s first coworking space. We had toy makers and clothes manufacturers sitting alongside offices from very early on.

Fast forward 39 years and we currently manage over 60,000 square foot of workspace. We let a mixture of studios and desk spaces at the current market rate to a mix of tenants from social enterprises and film studios to freelance creatives, charities breweries and bakeries.

What’s the best collaboration story from Bootstrap that you like to share? Any tips you would like to share with people running a space as diverse as yours?

Our tenant mix is what makes Bootstrap. We have a wealth of uber-talented tenants from film studios, photographers and Oscar winning producers to 24 year old refugee charities founded here on Ashwin Street. This eclectic mix encourages collaboration and makes Bootstrap such a vibrant enterprise and community hub. There are over 180 organisations and 400 people who work in our desk and studio spaces across our 3 buildings in Dalston.

One of our tenants, Okay Studio, is a post production film studio. Whilst putting the kettle on they once overheard another tenant saying they desperately needed some editing done to a film they’d just finished. Okay Studio introduced themselves and then went on to work on two major Red Bull projects as a result!

How do you see Bootstrap in 5 years from now?

We see Bootstrap as being the socially minded workspace provider. When you rent a desk or studio with us that money supports young people to set up their own businesses through our Enterprise Bootcamp programmes, it enables us to programme community events and also contributes towards the Bootstrap Fund to help us support those most in need of affordable workspace. Other workspace providers will keep their profit but as a charity we are able to reinvest into our work to support our tenants and the local community.

In the future we’d like to scale the Bootstrap Fund model across London so we can support more socially and culturally focussed organisations and ensure that they don’t fall victim to London’s very high property prices.


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