5 alternative office spaces

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The idea is taking off: you can work for yourself – that’s the new reality that the technological revolution of the past 10 or 20 years has allowed us.

The question is ‘Where can you work for yourself?’

The idea of the nicely designed office has great appeal: a warm room, nice desk chair, free coffee and office chatter at the metaphorical water cooler.

But when you’re the sole employee of your business or it’s just two or three of you, an office is an expensive luxury.

Fortunately, Cardiff reflects that and we’ve got loads of alternative where you can work for free or almost free. We’ve put together some of the best.

Milgi Lounge

Milgi is best known for being a bustling night time venue full of arty types looking to make it or of students looking for something a bit different to do with their night.

That’s only half the story though.

This amazing little cafe/bar opens at 12pm most days and there’s a great six hour block of calm before the night kicks off. The ambience of the cafe is conducive to creativity and the food and drinks menu is completely different from anywhere else in Cardiff.

With a nice playlist of world music curated by the bar staff, you can switch off and not worry about fiddling about with your iPod.

Upsides: Nice ambience, creative community, good food and drink

Downsides: Opens at midday

The Gate

If you’re after something a little less edgy, The Gate Arts Centre in Roath is probably just up your street. Attracting an eclectic mix of 20somethings, mothers with babies, OAPs and local dignitaries, the cafe at The Gate is a light, open space where you can usually have your pick of table.

It’s the sort of place where no-one will bother you if you buy a cup of coffee and then sit with an empty mug all day while you suck the life out of the free WiFi.

Make sure you try the Breakfast Panini – a full breakfast inside a panini.

Upsides: Light space, great if you need to add people to your workparty

Downsides: Unpredictably noisy – avoid days when mothers and toddlers take over

The Pear Tree

Recently, we spoke to Laura Sorvala of PlayARK and asked her which public spaces she would recommend for working.

“I live in Roath and I use the Pear Tree pub. Most of my meetings have been there and I’ve had my mapping sessions with people there because there it’s circular and when you go upstairs you can find a quiet spot with furniture that you don’t have to feel too careful with and it feels open,” she said. “You can find a corner where you can work. It’s fine if people are having meals, it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s because part of their decor is a feeling of messiness: it’s OK to come and hang out. As a local, that would be my number one.”

Need we say anymore?

Upsides: Comfy spaces, cosy corners. Try the chilli nuts.

Downsides: It can feel a bit expensive sometimes.

Indycube

Sure, it’s a little bit out there. You have to take a bus or drive out to Culverhouse Cross if you want to use it, but IndyCube is Cardiff’s only designated coworking space at the moment.

If you’re looking for a day away from the cafe culture or the distractions of the city, IndyCube could be just for you.

Work alongside media types, illustrators, developers in a beautiful modernist building (although the architecture isn’t to everyone’s taste).

Unfortunately, working at IndyCube isn’t free so you’ll need to be bringing in a little bit of money to be able to pay for your desk space.

Upsides: Free coffee, ever changing colleagues, creche service (if you’ve got children to take care of)

Downsides: Not free (but it’s not expensive either), far out of the city centre.

Your House/Flat

The Plastik Magazine Office

This one’s not for everyone but it’s how I work on Plastik Magazine – so I can testify to the comfort at least.

It’s nice not to have to commute or walk in the rain to a tubelit office and it’s also nice not to pay £4.50 to eat lunch or £1.65 for a slightly sour black coffee.

That being said for those prone to distraction of the washing up or the television/gaming system of your choice, it’s not ideal and will take quite a lot of character building discipline.

It can also get a bit lonely if you’re not out and about interviewing people regularly like us.

Upsides: No walk to work, free lunch,

Downsides: Distractions abound as does the temptation never to wash again.

How The Gate saved itself

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Plastik met up with TJ Wheeler, 24 year old director of The Gate, three months after he took over the position from the previous director.

He talked to us about the repositioning that the arts centre has undergone since it almost closed down a few years ago.

For the tape, who are you, what do you do and how old are you?

I’m TJ Wheeler, centre director at The Gate and I’m 24.

You’ve just started right?

3 months in now! I’ve got my three month review soon. I’ve just started. I was centre manager for two months before this and then training manager before that and a person on the bar. So two and a half years since I started.

How’s it all going?

Good, actually. Genuinely good. Exciting I suppose because we’ve got lots of options, lots of new stuff on the table, lot of stuff to do. It has its stress points where we don’t have enough money for things or staff issues. All in all, I’m enjoying it. It feels like we’re getting somewhere.

The Gate has changed in, let’s say… five years. It used to be just an arts centre but in your opinion how has it changed?

I think it’s grown in what it has done. As you say, it used to be an arts centre on a smaller scale with a lot less presence and influence in Cardiff. Fewer people using it. It’s grown in both how many people come through the door and the types of things we do. We also hire the building out now. We’ve looked a lot more at the community and doing things to support it instead of just putting on arts events: training programmes on all sorts of different levels, professional internships with graduates. It’s a blend! It’s bizarrely come back to how we started: the heart and the ethos behind it has gone full circle now. We’re in a new era.

You say the ethos has gone back to how it was, what is the ethos?

That someone could come and feel secure, a part of something bigger than themselves, safe, able to relax, able to enjoy. ‘A cup of water for the soul’ was the catchphrase. It does that, I think. It’s grown into something which can generally engage with people and generally engage with our community – doing that through arts and getting alongside people and helping them in their journey. It’s working out where we go from here.

Aren’t there almost 20 different languages spoken on the streets around The Gate?

Yeh. We’re in an extremely multiethnic area and I think one of the things we’ll move into is trying to engage better. The majority of people that use The Gate aren’t in those minority groups so we’ve got to do a lot to improve that and make it more realistic for our local community but that takes time. We’ve got to build trust, relationships and connections. We’ve had some exciting starts and some good hires for events which support and focus on those links but we’d like to improve that and see it become much more realistic and representative.

Three years ago, The Gate almost closed. Now it’s obviously not in the same way, what’s the key?

I’d say it’s a bit of a blend really. A key component would be Mark Stavers, the previous centre Director who I took over from. He came on maybe four years ago and has turned it round from being however many thousands of pounds in debt to doing very well. I think he both worked hard and did the work of three full time jobs at the same time but also he came back to what he really wanted The Gate to be about. He focussed his energy on that and brought in Adam, the hires manager, to try and bring in more income from using the space better. Having a bit of clarity and organisation in that way has really helped our bottom line.

As well as the clever business, I assume that the accounts have been helped by your intern programme?

Yes and no I suppose. We started the training programme last September, when I started full time. We wanted to run a training programme for unemployed people aged 18-24 who had been unemployed for six months or more. We wanted to develop their character and attitude, enable them to work and give them a bit of coaching – moral guidance, I guess. That was only part funded by the programme itself so we still ended up putting 10-20K a year into that because it’s what we thought we should do as a community centre. We actually ended up running that at a loss. Now it’s progressing into something a bit more supported. We’ve got access to grant funding and this should be the first year where we can both improve what we do and not run at a loss. It’s a positive step.

Flux is a good word

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The world is increasingly small. We’re socially integrated. I Facebook you and tell you that I’m going to be at Buffalo Bar. You reply to me via Twitter. @personidontknowbutwhoknowsyou tweets you back and says, ‘I’m going to be there too!’ Before I know it, @personidontknowbutwhoknowsyou becomes @davejones.

Our world is becoming really small.

At the same time, our lives are becoming remote and big. This week I’ve done some business with a person I’ve never met. I’ve learned about a place I’ve never been to. I’ve signed up to use businesses without a tangible product.

Our world is also getting bigger.

This is flux. The tension between bigger and smaller and that’s very much the feel of the creative culture in our city.

In some ways, we’ve become more introverted: Cardiff loves small business, great ideas that cut out the noise of life, meeting in community groups rather than at sell out concerts, festivals organised by individuals.

In other ways, we’re having big ideas: do it yourself, involve people from around the world, take a great idea from a different place, contextualise everything.

Probably one of the best signs of this is that we’ve put on more local festivals with global outlooks this year than ever before. I’ll name three shining examples: Soundtrack Festival, SWN Festival and Cardiff Design Festival.

Every moment of these events is a great sign that we’re becoming one of the most innovative capitals in Europe and that’s not even exaggerating.

But now the city needs support.

As with all ideas, once they get to a certain point, they need support, or they’ll break.

That’s why we love @CreativeCardiff who have been supporting the amazing work done by Cardiff’s innovators in culture (and also sponsoring Plastik over the last month).

With the city’s great big roster of events, @CreativeCardiff has helped to promote our new culture to a wider audience both in Wales and further afield.

Launching in London earlier this year, the organisation put Cardiff’s creativity in front of eyes in high places in one of the world’s biggest media centres. That was a good start.

Not only that, but they went on to promote the activity of festivals like Cardiff University’s Creative Minds and Madeinroath to a wider audience through the production of blogs, sending photographers to events and turning the spotlight onto creative culture in Cardiff so that their network of investors and decision makers get to see it.

That’s flux in action. We’re producing small things, organisations like @CreativeCardiff are taking them to the big world.

Let’s hope that they’re able to keep doing bigger and better things with the smaller, exciting things our cultural innovators are doing.

Stay Fantastic,
Marc

Creative Minds preview

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This time last year, I was on an assignment to find and report on a speech being given in Cardiff. It was very hard to find anything newsworthy that was also interesting.

While Lord Hannay did end up giving a riveting talk on European integration, I’d rather have been reporting on one of the events that are happening at Cardiff University’s first ever Creative Minds festival.

The festival, which showcases the best of creative talent in Wales, launches on Saturday 29 October but there are also events throughout the whole of November and December.

Kicking off with a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window on Friday 28 October, festival goers will be able to watch some uncanny cinema before discussing it in a conversation group. Perfect opportunity to air your inner intellectual.

Although the Saturday of the festival is filled with interesting and engaging lectures by some incredible people, there are obviously a few events not to be missed if you can’t commit to the whole day.

Notably, Ned Thomas who has lived a life unparalleled by any in strange experiences will speak to Dr Katie Gramich, doctor of philosophy, about his memoir Bydoedd. According to his biography, Thomas has been interviewed by a Pope, escaped the KGB, chilled out with ETA members in the Basque Country and has also been instrumental in creating a Welsh language media.

Listening to someone like Ned Thomas talk is a far better use of time than watching kids TV on a Saturday morning.

Later in the day, you can hear from Richard Gwyn. Gwyn, a novelist and poet, has also lived a fairly remarkable life. Like the majority of great poets, Gwyn has had a tumultuous life of addiction and loss. At Creative Minds, he’ll be talking about his memoir Vagabond’s Breakfast but more specifically about the blurred lines between fiction and memoir.

Don’t miss Richard Gwyn, who was given a year to live… in 2006, as he recounts his life and the things he’s learned from it.

Another literary event of note in the launch weekend is a lecture from John Harrison, winner of Welsh Book of the Year for his account of going in search of the lost Andean nation.

As well as the lectures and conversations about books that form the majority of the opening weekend of Creative Minds, there are also events based around the changing of the media.

For example, Tamara Witschge will give a seminar on the changing face of journalism. This one will be especially interesting given that 2011 has been both a disastrous and triumphant year for journalism and the media. Between the brilliant coverage of the Arab Spring, the debauchery of the phone hacking scandal and the role of the public in covering the England riots earlier this year, there’s certainly a lot to chat about.

That’s followed by a lecture from Duncan Bloy, who was my media law lecturer at Cardiff University. I can personally recommend a lecture from Duncan Bloy who is both a charming speaker and an engaging expert in the media’s intrusion into the public life.

The festival schedule as well as admission information is available on the festival website. http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/creativeminds/

Most events are free and open to the public but you may need to book our place at some of them so to avoid disappointment, make sure you check.

5 reasons to start up in Cardiff

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Although I personally can’t stand his writing style, Richard Florida is a smart guy and his books are good. Recently, I’ve been working my way through his Who’s Your City?

In this book, Florida completely slates the idea that you can do whatever you want from wherever you want because our world is ‘flat’ – technology has made it easy to ‘innovate without having to emigrate’ (or so says Thomas Friedmann a New York Times columnist.

He then goes to great length to explain why this idea is really quite mislead.

His conclusion? The world is anything but flat and certain places are better for certain people.

Here’s five reasons that Cardiff is good for startups.

1) Low Rent

Let’s not compare ourselves to London too often – that’s not constructive. We’re two different cities with two vastly different populations.

However, this seems as good a time as any to make a favourable comparison between two of Britain’s capitals: rent in London is immeasurably higher than Cardiff.

Regardless of whether you’re looking at taking up a shop unit in the centre of the city, an office space in a coworking facility or just looking for a place to live and work at the same time, you’re much more likely to find a bargain in Cardiff than you are in the big smoke.

That’s got to be a great financial move for a startup. The more money you save on business costs, the more you can spend on business growth.

2) Low Competition

Sure, there are some amazing benefits when you start your business in a saturated market: notably, you get to work with other companies who are already successful.

That said, where there are similar businesses, there’s also competition.

Take, for example, Rob Lo Bue. He’s the founder of Applingua, an app translation company. If he was going to business in a media city like Paris or Berlin, he might have trouble winning contracts or finding new clients.

That’s not so difficult in a city which is just realising its potential for a startup culture.

3) Upcoming City

That brings us to our next point: we’re an upcoming city.

Cardiff is no longer the home to Cool Cymru or the new Welsh Assembly. No – now we’ve got Welsh Government at 20 and we’re exporting a whole new breed of culture.

Our little city by the sea is becoming a region of its own and that’s a really positive thing. You can be delivering a completed website to a design client in the morning, having lunch in an amazing restaurant in the afternoon and a spot of surfing at Porthcawl to finish the day.

Sure – most people don’t do that every day… but with the way some people are starting to see their life as a startup, it’s a future that doesn’t seem that unrealistic.

4) Massive Investment

So even if you don’t manage to get a slice of the multi million pounds worth of investment that have been pouring into the city from various sources for years now, you’re sure to benefit from them indirectly.

Whether it’s by picking up a client from one of the major media developments (like the forthcoming Porth Teigr) or just taking all of the perks of a nice city centre in, the investment that has come to Cardiff has only added to the appeal of this young city.

5) Great Networks

Because it’s such a small city, it doesn’t take a long time to become hyper connected and if there’s one lesson for startups, it should be: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. With everything from one person companies up to multinationals in the city, you’re likely to be able to make some pretty solid connections within your first year of business.

***

Need you ask anymore? These five reasons should be enough to have you packing up your MacBook, picking up your suitcase and moving to Plasnewydd or Canton to start building your new business.

If you already live there, well, there’s never been a better time to give a new life a go.

Speak my Applingua?

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“I grew up just outside Cardiff, went to Cowbridge school, then to Bath I studied International Management and German. During my studies, I worked in Munich at an advertising agency,” explains Lo Bue when we speak over Skype one day.

It’s a freezing cold day in an autumnal Cardiff day and so to escape, Robert Lo Bue has popped off to Italy where he’s able to stay with a friend.

“I work regularly with about 20 different freelance translators around the world which means I work 24/7 because of the timezones. They’re the worst!” he explains, “Client wise, I think I’ve done about 50 different projects so far with about 35-40 different clients in nine months.”

His cosmopolitan lifestyle is no coincidence. Lo Bue set up and runs one of Wales’ only dedicated software translation companies, Applingua. He did so after getting bored of working for a company in Munich.

“After 18 months, I thought ‘I’ve always wanted to start my own company so I’m just going to do it – I’ve got nothing to lose.’” he says, “I didn’t have kids or a wife or anything so that was the time to do it. So I moved back home to Wales to live with my parents, rent-free. Since January I’ve been doing Applingua.”

During his degree Lo Bue got his first taste of working on technical translation projects. Now he’s putting those skills to work by translating iPhone apps or else paying freelances to do it for his clients.

“With app translation, you have to work within certain rules – basically what Apple says is right and wrong. That’s new to a lot of developers and also a lot of translators who are used to translating legal or medical documents,” he explains, “With Applingua, I created some training courses and every translator that works with me goes through the basic vocabulary and constraints that Apple sets. It’s new for everyone involved.”

At 24 and with an international business, the past nine months have been an incredible success for this young entrepreneur. But has his location had anything to do with it?

“As I said, I lived in Munich before and no matter how good your German is, there’s no way that you can set up a company,” he explains. “As it turned out, starting up in Cardiff was very straightforward.”

Lo Bue recommends looking at websites like Businesslink or just social networking sites like LinkedIn.

“You’ve got so many different people going at it alone in Cardiff and they all end up interacting on Twitter or LinkedIn. They’re really supportive. You know Welsh people! They’re friendly and don’t keep many secrets.”

He also points out that as his house is technically in Rhondda Cynon Taff, there’s a lot of funding available from the EU as RCT is part of their convergence strategy.

“Starting up in the UK is incredibly easy. Don’t listen to any of the political-mumbo-jumbo that says it isn’t. It’s the next part that is difficult,” he says when asked if someone should consider a startup instead of their dayjob, “You have to love what you’re doing and you have to be dedicated to it.”

“[When I started] I had no social life. After that I started reclaiming my weekends and refusing to answer emails at 11pm at night,” he continues. “There are times during big projects where I really do work all weekend, but then I’m my own boss and can decide to take two days off later on in the week.”

People like Rob Lo Bue are shining examples of all that can be achieved by young entrepreneurs in the city – he found a niche and took a risk.

“The satisfaction of watching something you are directly influencing grow is great,” he says in conclusion.

Then the phone hangs up. It’s cold in Cardiff but the climate is electric for innovators.

Welsh Language at SWN

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Iwan Huws

Saturday 22 October, 8.45-9.30pm, 10 Feet Tall

Iwan Huws is one of those gifted artists who can superbly concoct beautiful songs using a medley of sounds. Iwan’s music has haunting elements of acoustic country, infused with his deep and soul stirring lyrics. The tracks conjure images of rolling fields and sunny skies, leaving you with a smooth sense of nostalgia. The music hits an even more diverse level when Iwan shows off his Welsh language skills. The plucky acoustics swirling with the Welsh language, which so easily rolls of Iwan’s tongue, is enough to make even the toughest heart swell. Iwan’s not to be missed at SWN! – Jade Price

Sen Segur

Saturday 22 October, 7.00pm-7.45pm, Gwdihw

They are around the age of seventeen, they are psychedelic, and they sometimes sing about swimmers. Sen Segur may be young, but the trio, Gethan Davies, Ben Ellis and George Amor from Gwynedd in Snowdonia perform with maturity, and sound like they have been plucked straight out of a mid-60s psychedelic pop festival and planted firmly in 2011. Twangy guitars and bass with some dreamy reverb and lilting Welsh language vocals make a compelling mix. They cite some of their influences as Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, and Super Furry Animals. The band have played at the National Eisteddfod and Gwyl Gardd Goll festival in Bangor this year, and you can catch them at SWN this weekend. – Rachael Hogg

Y Niwl

Saturday 22 October, 11.45pm-12.30am, Dempsey’s

If you want to be reminded of those lazy summer days this weekend at SWN, then check out Y Niwl. Their retro, instrumental and bright surf rock will transport you back to lounging around on the beach (on those couple of days of sunshine that we had this summer). The names translates into English as The Fog, which is a bit of a juxtaposition of their music, and of their production. The LP was recorded by British Sea Power’s engineer, David Wrench and unlike nearly every band produced these days, the sound is almost entirely natural. There has been no enhancement of sound, even down to the reverb. This therefore means, if you like what you hear, and you enjoy the authenticity, you are even more likely to love seeing Y Niwl live this weekend. – Rachael Hogg

Al Lewis Band

Sunday 23 October, 7:00-7:45pm, Clwb Ifor Bach

Al Lewis’ winsome, radio-friendly melodies mask complex, impeccably crafted lyrics; evoking the American troubadours of the 1970s, the North Wales singer perfectly creates sweeping story arcs in songs like Life On The Wire and The Arsonist.
Al Lewis’ star has been steady in Welsh Language music since 2007, when the singer-songwriter came second in the “Song For Wales” competition. In 2009 Al Lewis Band released their first Welsh Language album, enjoying massive success. Performing alternately in both Welsh and English, Al’s 2010 solo release In The Wake was followed by his first nationwide tour and a Welsh Music Prize nomination. – Emily Bater

Welsh Music Prize

And let’s not forget the formidable Welsh Music Prize. Although we’ve already mentioned it several times this week, it’s a highlight of the festival this year. While it won’t be in the Welsh language, it is a celebration of Welsh (language) music and Welsh culture. We’re so unbelievably excited about finding out who the winner is that we can barely stop squealing – in Welsh.

 

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SWN Festival is an incredible opportunity to promote Wales and the Welsh language. With all of the literature that’s produced for the festival being bilingual, the team behind SWN are making a massive contribution to the Welsh language as well as culture in Cardiff.

Exciting times!