The Trampery
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The Trampery

2020 vision, lessons from upheaval

Charles Armstrong in Block F, Fish Island Village in Hackney Wick — Photo by JC Candanedo

In January I set myself a goal to write an article every month through 2020. Now as we approach the year’s end, I wanted to use this final piece to look back, trace how the string of articles has mirrored my personal journey and reflect on what I’ve learned.

2020 started with a rush of new opportunities and projects. I expected to spend the year opening new workspaces, developing new projects, and launching Evo Accelerator, The Trampery’s course for purpose-driven businesses. To support this agenda I mapped out a series of topics I’d write about, focused on the transition to purpose-driven business and the changing role of entrepreneurs in the world.

My first two articles “10 Years to Change Capitalism” and “We need to rethink accelerators” followed the plan. But by March the corona pandemic had reached Europe and normal life had been turned upside down. The subjects I’d planned to write about no longer seemed important. My article that month was “Maintaining Community in a World of Self-Isolation”, describing how The Trampery was reinventing itself as an online community, finding new ways to support our members and help them survive the crisis.

Before face to face events became impossible we managed to launch Poplar Works, a remarkable facility supporting fashion skills and trades in a low-income community. But a week later the building was shuttered, whilst the fit-out at our Fish Island Village campus was put on hold and all new project discussions ground to a halt. Alongside my dismay at the mounting human cost of the pandemic, I felt a quiet fury that the year of expansion I’d anticipated had been snatched away from me.

This sense of fury lasted a month, then in April, I experienced a kind of breakthrough. I realised that by clinging onto my expectations from the pre-pandemic world, I was preventing myself from playing a useful role in the new situation that had suddenly come into being. As soon as I understood this I started looking at things in a different way, and my anger vanished.

With this new perspective, I saw that amidst the horror of the pandemic, there were extraordinary opportunities for positive change. The crisis was acting as a powerful catalyst, blowing away long-standing blockages and opening the door to new possibilities. In April I wrote “Coronavirus and Capitalism” trying to capture this new perspective. Then in May, I wrote “The Workspace: Evolving not Disappearing”, the first of several articles discussing long-term changes in working patterns.

In May the murder of George Floyd changed everything once again. Tens of millions of people around the world, particularly in the United States and Europe, started seeing clearly the structural racism in their societies, and perhaps in themselves too. Somehow the circumstances of the pandemic created the conditions for a mass shift in consciousness, unlike anything I’ve witnessed before. I felt a great personal responsibility to bring this change into The Trampery’s work. Alongside practical steps to support black members of the team and black-founded businesses in our community, I wrote “A Call for Inclusive Entrepreneurship”.

In July I returned to the thread of changing working patterns, this time looking at the origins of the commuter city, and how cities would need to evolve. But the more I wrote the more I wanted to say. What was meant to be a single article ended up as a trilogy, running until October (“Commuting is Dead: is the City Next?” Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

Finally, last month’s article “The Impact Spectrum” marked a return to the original plan, picking up the theme of purpose-driven business and its role in society. The same month, the team’s amazing commitment meant we were able to launch Evo Accelerator and welcome the first 25 businesses onto the course.

Despite all the difficulties, I don’t have any sense that 2020 has been a wasted year. We opened Poplar Works. We launched Evo Accelerator. We got planning consent to create a spectacular new public workspace in our Tottenham site. We delivered two more cohorts of Sustainable Fashion Accelerator. Discussions are underway regarding three large-scale workspace projects. And after the delays with Fish Island Village, fit-out for the remaining nine blocks begins in January.

As a team, we’ve learned that shared values and purpose make us incredibly strong. We’ve overcome huge operational and psychological challenges. We’ve reinvented what we’re doing day by day. We’ve supported each other, and found support ready when we needed it.

As a company, we’ve discovered that our approach to running workspaces, and the attention we put into every individual’s wellbeing and success, is also the basis for a resilient business. Whilst many commercial workspaces have seen catastrophic falls in occupancy, all but one of The Trampery’s workspaces have actually seen occupancy rise during the pandemic.

As an individual, I’ve learned a lot about leadership in a crisis. During the most critical periods, I knew the team needed me to be very present, and to set clear direction, and I did my utmost to give them what they needed from me. Amidst so much fear and uncertainty I always sought to remain calm, optimistic and cheerful, helping others to relax and focus on what they needed to do.

Writing these articles has been a wonderfully rewarding experience. Every month it’s been a challenge to find the time, but I never lacked for things I wanted to write about. With that in mind, I plan to continue the monthly pattern into 2021. To everyone who’s shared the journey with me so far, thank you for your company. I send you my warmest wishes for this year’s end, and the new year to come. Let it be a year of change.

The Trampery is London’s largest independent workspace operator. It’s a purpose-led business that delivers workspaces and accelerator programmes for entrepreneurs and people who want to make an impact. The Trampery is committed to playing a role in the shift towards a more balanced form of capitalism, supporting entrepreneurs, startups and scaleups who pursue social and environmental benefits alongside profit. Learn more here.




Studios, coworking & courses with a new approach to business; based in London, UK.

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Charles Armstrong

Charles Armstrong

Founder & CEO, The Trampery

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