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Julie Tucker
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Military support: Coworking in the UK

Military bases are introducing shared coworking hubs to assist the partners of those who work for the British Armed Forces. The military launched the scheme to help partners of serving personnel to develop new skills, careers and businesses.

A pilot scheme for the Military Coworking Network was launched in 2017 at Leuchars army barracks, in Fife, Scotland. It proved such a success that it is now being expanded across the UK, thanks to funding from the Armed Forces Covenant Trust.

The scheme has been extended to help the 65,000 people whose spouse or civil partner is in the armed forces, recognising how difficult it can be for family members of military personnel when they are moved to new barracks on a regular basis.

Project’s origins
Thanks to the coworking initiative, participants are able to collaborate, develop skills and get support to find work, forge a new career and expand a business idea.

Mostly run by volunteers, the Military Coworking Network was founded by Sarah Stone, a former member of the Royal Signals and external relations adviser to former Prime Minister David Cameron. Launched in 2014 and part-funded by the Scottish government, the project was based on a community network called Can Do Places.

Can Do Places was aimed at helping people to open collaborative workspaces in local buildings including former libraries, offices and shops. Stone based the Military Coworking Network on the same theme, recognising the importance of people developing skills while a part of the armed forces.

Need for new skills
According to the forces’ support website, Strength 4 Spouses, it is extremely important to develop extra skills when you’re a military spouse. The site advises “learning consistently” and taking advantage of the many opportunities on offer.

It suggests looking into learning new skills for success, including scholarships available in fields such as licensure and degree courses. Learning something new and stepping out of your comfort zone is one suggestion, as is networking – described as a “super important skill”.

The military community is an amazing world of people who are always willing to help each other. Networking with others, whether they are in your sector or not, can “open doors”, according to Strength 4 Spouses.
Many have to reinvent their careers and networking can help to transform their role into something more suited to their lifestyle.

Coworking scheme expansion
The Military Coworking Network pilot scheme in Fife, made possible thanks to the armed forces funding programme, proved a huge success. It soon began to expand and by 2019, five hubs had opened. Today, there are seven hubs in existence and another 30 being planned.

Laura Moore, the network’s marketing and communications manager, said it really showed the demand and need for such a scheme. The coworking hubs currently up and running include the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire and the military garrison of Aldershot.

The first overseas Military Coworking Network hub opened in Cyprus in January 2021 for the partners of serving personnel based at Episkopi and Akrotiri. Described as a “warm, friendly and welcoming” coworking space for people who work from home, who are running their own business, or who are looking for somewhere to study; the Cyprus Military Coworking Hub invites like-minded military partners to offer mutual support in their career.

Wealth of talent
The Armed Forces Covenant Trust invests £10 million a year in new initiatives to support military families and veterans. Its funding of the coworking pilot is elevating the network from a grassroots community project into a structured project to drive it forward, with the approval of the Ministry of Defence.

A survey among the 65,000 trained service personnel in the army, navy and RAF who are married or in a civil partnership has revealed a wealth of talent across the community. Spouses have many professions and skills such as teachers, lawyers, carers, artists, business owners and people studying for degrees and other qualifications.

Around 35% of the spouses already had a skill that they could take with them every two years when they moved to a new military base with their partner. However, the remaining 65% were having to start all over again every couple of years, which had a big impact on their career.

The Military Coworking Network already has a number of success stories, including two property lawyers who have linked up over the network’s webinars to further their careers. In addition, a photographer, a makeup artist and a hairdresser from the Leuchars hub have teamed up to start a small business offering makeover packages.

To improve people’s emotional health; the network also reduces social isolation, providing daily social interaction and connections that are a necessary part of life.

Covid safety measures
While all the hubs closed during the first lockdown in 2020, many are now able to open with the appropriate Covid-19 safety measures in place, including reducing the number of desks so social distancing can be maintained.

Each military coworking hub is linked through an online community. Membership more than doubled to 2,000 in 2020 and the aim now is to attract 5,000 members.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the many benefits of a coworking environment, join the community at Headspace. We offer flexible workspaces for the creative, technology and media sectors.

 

© Bumble Dee / Adobe Stock

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