Norfolk Network stories

The power of two

Charlie Watson
Singular Publishing

When Norfolk Network relocated to St George’s Works earlier this year, it was an exciting moment. Following the big website relaunch in 2016, the move would be the next big step in the network’s evolution, bringing new contacts, new opportunities and new ideas. And so it proved.

But then something unexpected happened: the landlord-tenant relationship became a partnership.

“When we first met, all sorts of ideas were thrown around,” says Lucy Marks, Norfolk Network’s managing director, “and it soon became clear that there was room to do much more than just talk.”

The partnership agreement paves the way for the two organisations to make progress on a broad range of objectives. The St George’s Works team, for example, wants to connect to the wider business community, to universities and to FE students, and aims to be a key player in supporting the city’s creative and tech sectors. For Norfolk Network the partnership will enable the creation of a city-centre hub that brings the organisation’s office, event spaces and meeting facilities together in a single building. It also means the network will operate within a thriving business community.

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Dominic Richards, the visionary behind St George's Works at Norfolk Network earlier this year.

“It truly benefits us both,” says Giff Mulley, site manager at St George’s Works. “We want people to be able to come in and see what we’re doing, so if the Norfolk Network community want to sit downstairs and have a coffee or use the meeting spaces upstairs, then both those services can fit under the partnership umbrella. Having Norfolk Network here gives us the bandwidth to manage that.”

Open to ideas

The vibe at St George’s Works is creative, calm and open. While every business can close its office door to focus on the task at hand, the default for many is to keep doors wide open. And beyond individual offices there are also open-plan meeting areas, more formal meeting rooms, flexible event spaces and even a rooftop terrace. If a forward-thinking partnership of ideas and connections is going to flourish anywhere, it’s in an environment like this.

“Our offering is targeted at new and growing businesses,” says Giff. “It’s the kind of environment Norwich seems to be short of. And there’s more to come. For instance, it’s our aspiration to set up a link between Norwich and our Spitalfields Works development in London, when it’s up and running in a couple of years or so. We’ve worked in London, as many people here have, so we’ve got a sense of how co-working, small offices and that whole culture can work. And if we can create a Norwich-London connection and try new things and be a bit of a bridge, why not?”

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Up on the roof: Lucy Marks with Marielle van Deutekom, Project and Marketing Co-ordinator at St George's Works.

Marielle van Deutekom, project and marketing coordinator at St George’s Works, agrees: “It’s great that at that point we’ll be able to offer start-up businesses a presence in London. Many of our tenants have clients there already, and we even have tenants who’d gone to London but have come back to Norwich and joined us.”

With a strong partnership in place, the London connection will also be a great opportunity for Norfolk Network to stage events in the capital and to connect with London-based businesses and organisations. “To me, it’s all about communities overlapping,” says Lucy. “And whether that’s in Norwich or London, or ultimately both, it’s really exciting.”

Students today, entrepreneurs tomorrow

An intriguing element of the partnership agreement is the explicit mention of universities and students. The University of East Anglia, Norwich University of the Arts and City College Norwich are all strong supporters of Norfolk Network – with UEA also a platinum sponsor and CCN a gold sponsor – but why the interest from St George’s Works?

“Education is very close to our heart,” explains Marielle. “Dominic [Richards, CEO of Architekton, which owns St George’s Works] loves Norwich and wants to contribute to its success, making Norwich an attractive place for students to work, keeping the talent here, encouraging our tenants and other local businesses to employ them and give them opportunities. If we can feed into that, so much the better.”

Julie Schofield, UEA’s Joint Head of Careers – Business Engagement, would be happy to hear that. She visited St George’s Works recently and likes both what she saw that day and what the partnership promises for the future.

“They’ve done a beautiful job with the building,” says Julie. “And while UEA has an amazing campus, we like to give students the opportunity to interact and network with employers in the city. Over the years many students have benefited from our partnership with Norfolk Network from attending events, gaining work experience and access to professional development. The partnership with St George’s Works can only grow the range of opportunities for collaboration. UEA has a growing start-up community and we can see real opportunities for students to see the benefits of staying local and being part of a dynamic and developing business community. It will be great for our students to visit St George’s Works, understand what businesses are doing, maybe get the opportunity to work within a small business or start-up, and even to hot-desk at St George’s Works while they’re developing their business. And longer-term, the ability for graduate entrepreneurs to use the Spitalfields hub will be fantastic.”

"Over the years many students have benefited from our partnership with Norfolk Network from attending events, gaining work experience and access to professional development. The partnership with St George’s Works can only grow the range of opportunities for collaboration."
Julie Schofield, UEA, Joint Head of Careers - Business Engagement

While it’s still early days, the first students have already had a taste of life at St George’s Works. “I brought in a couple of students who help me with events, and they were so excited,” says Lucy. “It made them feel that Norwich really has opportunities for them, which is a great response. There’s a lot to be said for students getting away from campus and into the professional environment, but it’s also the case that businesses often want to bring a student on board in some capacity but are too busy to make it happen. We can be the facilitators.”

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The last word

While the focus of the partnership is on ‘soft’ benefits to do with connection and collaboration, ideas and innovation, there are also some money-saving special offers involved. Norfolk Network is offering tenants at St George’s Works 20 per cent off associate membership and 50 per cent off the first three non-member tickets to events, for example, and St George’s Works is ready to give Norfolk Network members a 15 per cent discount on monthly hot-desking fees and preferential rates on meeting rooms.

To find out more, get in touch with Lucy or Marielle and Giff, whose contact details are on the website listed below. Alternatively, sign up for the Norfolk Network summer party, from 6pm to 9pm on Wednesday 12 July.

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In the meantime, the last word belongs to Marielle: “This partnership opens new doors for our tenants, some of whom are small businesses and start-ups. Lucy brings a wealth of knowledge of that world, as do her members and the speakers at her events, many of whom are more established businesses and entrepreneurs. The partnership will open up new avenues for everyone.”

For more, visit: www.stgeorgesworks.uk

Photos: Joe Lenton Commercial Photography