Two St Peter's Square
St Peter's Square: Suitable for coworking and professional services, but what about the SMEs?

COMMENT | Growing pains

So, you’re in a funky, artfully-lit office, with beer and Prosecco on tap, sofa areas for meeting rooms and Instagram-ready wall murals, writes David Laws, partner at Matthews & Goodman. Why would you want to move?

Two reasons:

  • You no longer want to hire a desk/s, in a glass room, down an anonymous corridor, surrounded by an assortment of travellers, all sharing a convenience ship of commerce. What you really want is your own space, for you and your team. A space which reflects your corporate culture and ambition – your brand
  • Costs: Co-working spaces are easy to hire, but they can turn out to be expensive in the long run

What are the options?

David LawsWith 90% of businesses in Manchester employing no more than 50 people, the reality is that most companies only need 5,000 sq ft and this is where the problem lies.

Start-ups often begin their lives in co-working spaces and then head out into the big bad world, looking for a similar style high spec, modern office, only to discover that there’s very little choice available to them. This creates a jam in the system with unintended consequences that result in ‘space stagnation’ (i.e. people refurbish and stay put, rather than move to new premises), resulting in graduates of co-working offices facing limited, if any, viable choice. But why is this happening?

The bottom line is, more often than not, the financial viability required negates the ability to develop new offices with suite sizes of less than 5,000 sq ft. In Manchester, there’s the added complication of the Victorian heritage of the prime core properties, so although it has lots of character and is very beautiful, its heritage often renders a building unsuitable for redevelopment.

As a result, developers choose to create steel-n-glass micro-locations, such as St Peter’s Square, First Street, Noma and Spinningfields, to cater for companies in the professional financial services sector, which prefer large open-plan spaces – and can afford the associated price tag.

Although ideal for these large corporations, let’s not forget that SMEs are the lifeblood of Manchester’s business scene. If we don’t look after the needs of most SMEs, by the time they start looking for larger premises they will have left the city to prosper somewhere else which will cater for their needs.

Looking ahead

Admittedly some larger occupiers have moved away from the traditional prime core offering into various micro-locations across the city and the buildings they occupied have been adapted for the smaller space user. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, perhaps adaptation is a poor substitute for creating spaces which meet the specific needs of SMEs.

True, we could adapt spaces of over 5,000 sq ft to cater for the needs of smaller organisations or, we could have a strategic plan which focuses on tailoring our beautiful Victoria heritage to meet the needs of SMEs. The key is to be able to offer a diversity of space, which allows companies to make a clear brand statement and differentiate themselves from competitors.

This would, if we get it right, address the needs of Manchester’s 90% club, the SMEs. Our success as a city would be that they are more likely to stay in Manchester, rather than migrate to other towns or cities.

The conundrum for our city remains: how do we re-energise our heritage estate and still meet the demands of our most vibrant market, SMEs.

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A good read, some interesting points raised, relates to my experience

By Adam Ash

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