Introducing Patch: Work Near Home

Freddie Fforde
Mar 26 · 5 min read

Patch is building co-working clubs for commuter towns across the UK, vibrant local spaces to work, connect and support local enterprise. Patch brings design led interiors, high quality work infrastructure and a programme of community events to local high streets.

Work Near Home does not just mean a desk with good internet. Work Near Home is a new category to describe what we can achieve by reinvesting our time, money and talent into the places and people near where we live.

I believe that these choices, to enable our physical, mental and environmental well-being, feel intuitively right to most people, particularly following our shared pandemic experience.

At Patch, we call this collection of choices Work Near Home, a world where our work and personal lives are in concert, not in competition.

This is the world we are building, Patch by Patch, in residential areas and high streets, one town at a time. This post explores that vision and explains why I’m building a company to achieve it.

Reclaiming what we’ve lost

At the heart of our daily trade-off has been the commute.

This is a cost in nearly every way, to our finances, stress levels and schedules, but it is mostly a cost of time. Time that could be reinvested sharing the school run, preparing meals together, working through your personal reading list, or tending to an art project.

We deserve more time with our families, be it with children or lonely relatives. We deserve balance in our physical and mental health, time to relax, run, paint, read, stretch or just go for a morning walk with a loved one. Then there is our environment to think of, all the unnecessary journeys eating away at finite resources.

Most of all, perhaps, we can reclaim our sense of pride in place and community spirit. During the pandemic, we witnessed simple but powerful neighbourhood gestures. People who had never previously met were suddenly shopping for each other, or gently checking in to ask how they’re feeling today.

Let’s not lose that spirit. There is so much more to celebrate in our local community, and on our high streets, that barely get a fighting chance with the daily drain to city centres. We’ve also learned that work from home doesn’t work for everyone, be it for lack of space, or isolation. A rebalancing is due, in which we can choose to reconnect with our communities.

Work Near Home is much more than just where you spend your working day, it’s how that choice impacts everything else you are, and everyone else you know.

Near to where you live, near to what you love

This rebalancing is not a one-off. We think that two long term trends are converging which make Work Near Home a desirable future we can choose to retain.

First, as technology marches on, it continues to improve our ability to work when and where we want, including near to home.

The ‘central office’ is a 19th century technology. We now know that it’s not necessary to design our lives around this, and that has huge implications for how we spend our time.

Don’t get us wrong, offices can be great places, full of serendipity, relationships and collaboration. It’s just not necessary all the time. And clearly, neither is working from home a complete substitute, with all the trade-offs on space and health. It’s time for a better balance.

Second, the sad reality is that many of our high streets and community spaces have not been thriving for years. Valiant local initiatives haven’t been enough to stem the rising vacancies in our shops, libraries and places of worship.

It’s harder and harder to find ‘places to go’. There are rarely good places to work, either.

Rebuilding our high streets around a vision for Work Near Home will be hard work. But I have every confidence it will happen, because people who care can do great things (as was so often demonstrated during the pandemic).

Work Near Home is the convergence of these big movements in technology and community. By bringing people together for a larger share of the working week, near to where they live, they can build stronger bonds and revitalise local communities, near to what they love.

People centric, not office centric

The UK is missing out on its best talent because we penalise those who can’t or won’t commute to a city every day. We can choose a more flexible and productive life balance and, in doing so, improve access to opportunity, from Chelmsford to Chester.

The pandemic has finally shifted attitudes on what it is possible to do remotely. As it turns out, a lot more than was previously imagined, and good employers are embracing this.

Before the pandemic, the inertia to change was in part driven by the typical profile of the decision makers, the kind for whom commuting every day worked just fine. Childcare, affordability and health factors don’t always present the same challenges to the traditional managerial class.

This has driven too much compromise, for too many, for too long.

To attract and retain the best people, companies will now have to meet us, literally where we are. Flexible working has consistently been the most sought after perk for desk workers for many years. Now, we can retain the benefits of proximity to our communities, whilst losing the isolation and impracticalities of work from home.

Work Near Home can lower the barriers to entry for a more diverse workforce. We can choose better opportunity for those whose talents deserve it most, on their own terms, where and when they exercise it best.

We started Patch to build the future of Work Near Home.

The inspiration for Patch is drawn in part from organisations which remove constraints for talented people to access what they deserve, including the educational charity The Sutton Trust, the talent investor Entrepreneur First and the proud employer of ex-offenders, Timpson.

I also look to the example of bold businesses driving societal change through their practices and purpose; the social purpose of charitable members club The House of St Barnabas, the employee empowerment model of the John Lewis Partnership and the environmental mission behind renewable energy provider Bulb.

Most of all, it is individuals who inspire me to build Patch. Their stories, passion and social movements are what make our worlds more desirable places. That’s every volunteer litter picker, after-school book club host and community gardener doing their bit.

To summarise, Work Near Home means

  • Emphasis on individual needs, our families and our health
  • Empowerment of local networks, pride in place for communities
  • The enabling impact of technology for access to opportunity

And who is Patch? They say it takes a village, and we are no different.

Today, we’re a small group of employees and local champions, bringing each Patch to life. As we grow, Patch becomes something much bigger, a community of people who want to live more sustainable and balanced lives.

In this introduction, we are just starting to imagine what this will mean. But it’s the power and creativity of the individuals and groups who want to explore that future who will decide.

You can find out more here.

I’m grateful to those who helped me revise this piece, including Joe, Thish, Alex, Emma, Zoe, Ally, and of course, my family.

My thanks to Antony Slumbers for coining the phrase ‘People centric not office centric’, which he has let me use here. You can read his excellent original analysis here.

Patch Places

Thoughts on Work Near Home from the team at Patch

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