Mark Kirby - mobile, cloud, voice and IoT

Brighton geek cafe

Brighton Ruby User Group at The Eagle (some rights reserved, image by Yandle)

Brighton Ruby User Group at The Eagle (image by Yandle - some rights reserved)

I was talking to Josh Russell and Steve Purkiss out in Brighton last night and both of them mentioned the idea of having a centrally located base for ‘geeks”, ‘social media types”, ‘web people” and others involved in creative industries in Brighton. Specifically both mentioned that this would be a cafe/bar with the following features:

A place for networking, any time of day or night

Open during the day and night, providing a place for people to go to and meet friends, or go alone and see who’s there. A contant networking venue.

A place for working in an alternative environment

A place to get some work done, as well as have a coffee, some lunch or a beer - I’m thinking casual working, rather than being there 9-5 - you wouldn’t run a business from here. It would however have excellent wi-fi, lots of power points and sensible furniture.

A place for events

A room from which to run sessions, workshops and talks. As its attached to a bar, its easy to grab a beer, and somewhere for meeting people afterwards.

A few facts about me, relevant to this idea:

  • I work with a small design agency in the North Laines
  • I attend at least one networking/training event a week, often in Brighton, occasionally London
  • In my spare time I run a local arts blog and of course blog here
  • I want to meet as many people in the same and similar industries as possible, to lead to collabarations and future work for our agency, and personal side projects
  • When I’m in the house, I get less done than when I’m out, I try to use cafe’s and pubs to work from, but haven’t found the ideal venue yet

There’s lots of other people like me in Brighton

Brighton is packed with people like me who share some of the above traits, many of whom I know but plenty more I have yet to connect with. Richard Dallaway made this diagram showing visually the range of groups and meetups that connect many of these people.

Groups in Brighton

Groups in Brighton (Richard Dallaway)

Some of these groups meet once or twice a year, some monthly and others, like The Farm, The Tuttle Club and The Open Coffee club meet weekly. Almost every event I’ve attended has had a large number of attendees, indeed The Werks is open for co-working every single day and is always busy. There are a huge amount of people working in very small teams or alone who are open to meeting and sharing.

Existing locations for events

Whilst there are many events, most of them occur in one of a small pool of possible locations.

  • The Werks - a coworking office with a large room for presentations, its down in Hove so a little far to drop in for a short time if you live the other end of town. Its not a cafe so can have a slightly more formal feel, and there is no bar so people generally leave after events rather than hang around. Its a great venue, but its an office and meets a different need. Whuffie Club, UX Brighton and plenty of one off events occur here, and its ideal for more formal, structured events.
  • The Eagle - a pub with a room upstairs, often used for Skill Swaps, Girl Geek and Vine events and informal drinks based events. It can get very busy and its not a pub for working in.
  • The Hampton Arms - a pub used by The Farm group for the weekly meet-ups. Nothing special about the place, it just happens to be one a few people agreed was quiet and large enough for us to meet in, its not ideal though - sometimes the music can be a bit loud for a networking event.
  • The Regency Townhouse - a privately owned venue which allows us to have small events there on a temporary basis whilst its being refurbished. £5 app, geek wine thing, Brighton Ruby and more meet there, but we will soon lose this venue when the refurbishment is completed (update - which according to Danny Hope is likely to be sometime yet - so essentially its like the Werks, no bar, and non central, but otherwise good for meetups).
  • The Quadrant - another venue with a room upstairs, used for Tuttle Club, but isn’t perfect as the tables are very small and they aren’t as set up for coffee as some places.
  • The Lighthouse - used by ClearLeft to host their SkillSwap events but isn’t always available as used for exhibitons from time to time.
  • The LikeMindBri group use RedRoaster Cafe + The Basket Makers, but both can get very cramped and busy and are almost unusable as working venues due to lack of table space.
  • We used to have The Black Horse who allowed us to use the back room for events like the Geek Dinners, but they have since been refurbished and the back room has now gone.
  • [Moksha cafe][11] has great wifi, power points and is set up for working, but its not got a space for meetings and closes at 6PM most nights.

So, whilst we have a range of locations we can use for events and pop in and use for a drink and some work, none of the venues are perfect and none of them meet our requirements fully.

The ideal venue

I would like somewhere where:

  • :I can drop in and find people we know or could meet, liked minded individuals
  • :a combination of a large space and a bar is found, so talks can occur, and directly afterwards we can mingle, without having to leave the talks venue
  • :great wi-fi, appropriate furniture and power points mean I can drop in and do a couple of hours of work over the weekend, and perhaps find people to chat to as well
  • A centrally located place, amongst the buzz of the town - close to the cafes, restaurants and shops, so I can drop in on a Saturday but also catch a gallery, do some shopping etc. Basically somewhere you don’t have to go out of your way to get to, but can drop in when passing if the mood takes you

Money to be made

The Brighton ‘geek’ community must be the largest community of its kind in the city, much of the available work in the town that isn’t in the leisure industry is focused on the web and creative areas. If you open a venue targeting a large existing community searching for a home, you can guarantee it will be busy. Where people gather, and food and drink is for sale, they will spend.

If a large proportion of pub based events move to this venue, and believe me, they will, there will be an event happening at least 2 nights a week. At the moment, plenty of pubs are becoming deserted during the week - but any pub hosting an event will be busy as people will be attending for another reason other than just going out for fun. Even in times of trouble, you still need to attend events and keep networking. When people gather, they want to talk, and they will have a drink, or 3. The money being spent on the drinks isn’t being wasted in the same way as it would be if you go out with your regular mates. You can get a job by being present and having a drink.

This place has the potential to be one of the most profitable pubs/cafe’s in town - especially in this economic downturn!

A great thing for the city

Brighton and Hove loves its Creative Industry types and is always looking to attract companies to the town, away from London. Having what could well be the first venue of its kind in the world would be a big selling point and help strengthen the cities position in the world of tech, geekdom and creativity.

What do you think?

I’m hoping to continue the conversation started by Josh and Steve. Do you agree there is a need for this?

[11]: http://www.absolutebrighton.tv/brighton-cafes/moksha-caffe-brighton.html

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