An introduction to coFWD
Coworking Community & Participatory Space

coFWD is a self managed, independent community of people united by one common purpose – getting stuff done. Venture through the doors of our old bank building at the end of Rochester High Street and you’ll find an eclectic mix of individuals from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines. Together we’re building a community where people are encouraged to share and develop ideas, roll up their sleeves and get plans and projects off the ground. More information available at coFWD.org

[A short edit of the following was published in WOW Magazine in April 2012]

Kent is often referred to as the garden of England; for the past few years I’ve fondly referenced Medway as the compost heap. Sure it’s a bit rough around the edges but once you know where to look and who to look for, you’ll always find fertile soil to grow ideas, nurture communities, cultivate participation, and create truly sustainable value for everyone.

I prefer ‘doing stuff’ to writing about it (but I blog, occasionally). Back in 2009 I began a journey by challenging some of Medway’s authorities and the cultural landscape[i]. And I began exploring the soil and creative ecosystem[ii]. By 2011 some awesome people had found each other and a vision existed to create something disruptively better[iii]; through empowering ‘Personal Responsibility over Rights’ and a refocused importance to ‘Identify Passion and Redefine Creativity’.

coFWD (pronounced Co Forward) is a coworking community and participatory workspace, based at 161 (High Street, Rochester). The former three-storey bank building has become a bank of social-capital and community interest, a developmental and participatory place for a diverse community of people (amateur, pro-amateur, freelance and professional ‘problem solvers’, ‘doers’ and ‘social enterprisers’).

Creative insights and innovations often come in non-linear ways, through seeing connections and similarities between things we hadn’t noticed before. coFWD hopes to become an engine of such serendipity, to disrupt the traditional stereotypes of ‘creative industries’ and ‘creative practice’. Artists studios, media agencies, serviced office spaces and creative business hubs can be found elsewhere; at coFWD you’ll find overlapping circles of people whom might just create something much greater than any of them could create individually – to become more than the sum of their parts.

We moved into 161 on November 1st 2011, now only a few months in, the participatory space and its numerous rooms and environments have evolved considerably (painted, second-hand furnished and equipped with pro-bono exchange) but much is left untouched, waiting to be written and shaped. Our vision is open to anyone but we know it isn’t for everyone.

The book selection in 161’s ‘Library’ room is perhaps the most introspective clue about the diversity of the community and its overlapping circles and themes: Graphical Navigation Systems to Fundamental Techniques Of Serious Hacking, 101 DC Comics & Gig Posters to Introducing KANT, The Business Model Generation to The 1000 Journals Project, A Guide To Electronics to The Pedagogy Of The Oppressed, The Handbook Of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines to The Third Industrial Revolution, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to The Brainstorming Toolbox of Game Design, to name but a few.

If you have an incredible curiosity then it’s likely you’re a ‘Hacker’ of things (not to be confused with the malicious geek term ‘Cracker’). Whether you’re interested in how words shape, technology connects, culture forms or understanding develops; coFWD is an agent of change, rather than a guardian of tradition. coFWD and 161 are independent, shaped and run by people not organisations, but legally framed as and supported by ‘Creative Medway Community Interest Company’ (CiC).

Our community calendar currently lists contributions, sessions and activities including: ‘Dr Keevil’s Guide to Teaching Things and Stuff!’, ‘Monthly Coworking Jelly’, ‘Tuttle101’, ‘Lets Ruin Cinema’ and ‘Rochester Writers Retreat’, to name a few. If you’d like to know more or participate please do watch the film below and signup to our mailing-list at coFWD.org.

An Open Letter to Medway Council,
supporting The Deaf Cat, Rochester.

[Originally written on 11th April 2011. Today, directly submitted to Medway Council to support ‘change of use’ application Ref. MC/11/1478]

Dear Laura / Kevan [proprietors of The Deaf Cat]

Following the recent licensing issues and council interventions, I wish to make my feelings known on the subject of the Deaf Cat Coffee Bar – I hope this short note inspires you and your staff to stay motivated and positive in the face of the current hurdles, paperwork and autocracy.

In short, the Deaf Cat is much more than a Rochester coffee shop, it has become much greater than the sum of its parts and for the good of Rochester’s (and Medway’s) social ecosystem it is of paramount importance that this be recognised and supported by the council, not constrained.

I applaud what you have achieved in terms of a business, but more importantly I congratulate and thank you for the diverse community you have helped align, ignite and inspire. In a relatively short period of time you have achieved so much – well done! Through my ever-growing tuttle endeavours, community connections and public/council partnerships I will do what I can to help you build the necessary bridges with other creative groups, community initiatives, creative-freelancers/entrepreneurs and the local authorities.

From the standpoint of bureaucracy and autocracy (Eg. a quick glance over a piece of paper and a tick box aligned to a column marked ‘High Street Coffee Shop’) I understand how the Deaf Cat may appear at first to be a traditional High Street coffee house, but for those who care to look beyond the business name and brick building and its categorized business genre, a unique and thriving community of local catalysts can be found and will continue to grow. Sure the Deaf Cat serves good coffee but to most of the people who use it regularly the coffee is not the reason to frequent its welcoming space… its value cannot be realised in a cost-effective cuppa, its true value is in its community of active participants and true social-capital. Given Medway’s ‘Big Society’ agenda I can see no more valuable venture than The Deaf Cat.

What can be counted doesn’t always count. And from the standpoint of social capital, that which can’t be counted on paperwork or council forms, often counts.

Thank you. Positive thoughts,
Carl

Catalyst: http://fellow.ventures/tuttle101
Co-founder: http://coFWD.org

 

Coworking in Rochester, Kent
Creative Pros, Social Entrepreneurs
& Students Wanted!

The post below is out of date. We’ve now grown into the coFWD coworking community and workspace (Rochester, Kent, UK), for more info please see: http://coFWD.org




To keep up the local co-working vision and momentum, and to help the wonderful Deaf Cat out with its financial commitments to its currently vacant artists studios, James (@BecomeKnown) and I (Carl @FellowCreative) have just moved into Studio 5 at number 10 Rochester High Street – and we’re opening up our WiFi (including more secure Ethernet connections), Desks and Kettle to freelancers, startups, visitors, students and community initiatives.

Our new Studio 5 space isn’t as flexible as the Former Westminster Bank we had our eye on back in February (sadly removed from the rental market by the owner), nor is it as big as the original 2008 Brighton Skiff but we’re hoping it’ll provide us with a temporary foundation upon which to build even greater momentum and vision.

Studio 5 is currently equipped with 4 desks and an overflow space for an additional 3 desks (Studio 3), as well as access to toilets, a fitted kitchen and an enclosed courtyard.

We’ve already secured our first two part-time coworkers at £50pcm each (big thanks and welcome Paul @p_r_anderson of Sustaina.co.uk and Paul Baker at iDesignFor.co.uk).

We’ve still got room for two more full-timers (at £100pcm) or some more part-timers (at £50pcm), plus we’d like to encourage Students and other good folk to call in and see us. Occasional coworkers are very welcome for a day at no charge, just give us a ring on 07929 601737 to make sure we have space on the day.

We’re also exploring the potential for an event/workshop space for small groups so please let us know if you’ve got any ideas. We’ll post more details soon, in the meantime if you’re an organiser of small workshops, talks or other activities and you like the look of it please email us.

Finally, with this being a 101 Project and in support of The Deaf Cat (and the larger coworking vision) its important we’re transparent with finances. The space costs £260pcm to rent and any money we make beyond this will go into funding additional space usage (as and when its needed).