Combining Coworking With Climbing: Q&A With Yonder Co-founder, James Harrison

Yonder was born out of its co-founders two passions: collaborating and climbing, and they realized they wanted to create a space where they could climb regardless of how busy they were in the office
  • Yonder is a niche coworking space that combines coworking with a fully equipped climbing centre. 
  • Both of Yonder co-founders are big climbing fans and they found that they were always more productive after a good climbing session, which gave them  the idea to create a climbing + coworking space.
  • The coworking and climbing combination seems to be attractive and catching on, as there’s a similar space being built at the moment in West London.

There are hundreds of niche coworking spaces out there today, but Yonder is the first and currently the only one to combine workspace – including a practical makerspace – with a fully equipped climbing centre. 

Since opening at the tail end of 2018, Yonder has been accumulating both climbing and coworking members. It’s also home to a yoga studio and gym, and hosts a number of daytime and evening events.

To find out how such an intriguing space came to be and how to make a project like this work, AllWork.Space caught up with co-founder, James Harrison, over a cup of freshly ground coffee in Yonder’s on-site cafe.

Allwork.Space: Hi James! Firstly, what inspired you to combine coworking space with climbing?

James Harrison: The story began a couple of years ago when I was working as a furniture designer. Me and my now business partner, Paul, were based in a workshop in Stoke Newington and we’d started to outgrow the space.

I’ve always liked the idea of coworking; sharing creative ideas and building a community of like-minded people, so the initial idea was to find a large space, build a workshop in it and get friends and other people to work there and split the costs.

Paul is a big climbing enthusiast and got me into it about eight years ago. We climbed a lot together in Stokey – at lunchtime we’d go to the Castle Climbing Centre and always found that we were so much more productive afterwards as a result of the exercise.

However during busy periods it was difficult to get away from the office. So we thought: why not build a small climbing wall in our new building too? Then there’s no excuse. That was the seed, which quickly grew into a fully-fledged plan for a climbing centre! 

The concept behind Yonder is about mixing work and play. Everyone knows they spend too much time sitting at a desk hunched over their computer – but do little about it. We encourage people to break up their working day with exercise by removing all the barriers.

The climbing centre, workspace and yoga studio is in the same place and all the facilities are included in the coworking membership package.

Yonder Drone empty 01

This is “Yonder Drone empty 01” by Paul Vooght on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.

Allwork.Space: Did you have a particular building in mind when you were developing the idea or did the idea come first?

It was all quite serendipitous! The idea came first and we’d initially planned a smaller scale project, but then this large warehouse space became available and we thought it’d be amazing if we could find the funds to make it work. 

I think there’s a tipping point with climbing centres – you really need a certain amount of floor space for it to attract members and and get people coming back regularly. 

Within about three months everything fell into place. We secured the building, managed to find extra funding and it all worked out really well. 

Allwork.Space: The interior is pretty ingenious, with the climbing section as the centrepiece and the workspaces and cafe overlooking it on the first floor. Who designed it?

We designed it ourselves. Paul and I are both designers so we worked on it together with the help of a friend who’s an architect. He gave us a lot of guidance, then we got an engineering company on board who handled the construction side of things. 

It was a really fun process – I’m used to smaller projects and neither of us had designed a building before, so there was suddenly a lot more to think about.

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Allwork.Space: Do you have any direct competitors, ie. coworking spaces with climbing?

We’re the only one currently but there’s one being built at the moment in West London. They called us up for advice when they first started planning it. 

Allwork.Space: Anyone who works in the industry knows it can be difficult to make a coworking space profitable. How have you found that side of things?

We’re still in our first year of our business so it’s hard to tell, but I think having multiple legs to the business really helps. The coworking side gives us a regular and relatively stable monthly income because most people are permanent tenants. 

The climbing centre has been getting busier but there’s always an inevitable dip in summer when people are away on holiday or doing outdoor activities. 

Allwork.Space: Do local schools and education providers use the climbing facilities?

We run all kinds of kids clubs and we’re actually just about to roll out a schools programme. Daytimes in the climbing centre are when we’re quietest so our schools partnerships will ensure it’s being utilised.

Allwork.Space: Did you intentionally pick a building in the Blackhorse Lane area of Walthamstow, East London, because of its regeneration plans?

We secured the building two and a half years ago when there was very little here but we’d read up on the plans so we knew what was coming. I was keen to find somewhere in Walthamstow and this area felt like it had so much potential, so we got in when we could. 

I live in Walthamstow too – my commute is just five minutes!

Allwork.Space: What has been the most challenging part of the Yonder journey so far?

The most challenging part was during the build; building something of this scale is a huge challenge in itself. From getting sign off from structural engineers to issues around building control – there’s so much red tape. 

I’m used to building things myself, and as soon as you get a lot of people involved it complicates things and ends up taking longer than expected. The council were really supportive, but getting decisions officially signed off can take a long time. 

We had some structural issues that we had to resolve too. 

Once up and running, the biggest issue for a lot of new businesses is staff, particularly when it comes to controlling staffing costs. We’ve put a lot of effort into building a strong team – we’ve found that it’s about finding the right people and empowering them in the right way. 

Everyone is motivated by different things; it takes a bit of time to figure out what motivates individuals and how to get them to perform to the best of their ability. 

Allwork.Space: …and what have been the best bits so far?

We’ve been really pleased with the feedback we’ve received; people who come in just seem to love the space. We get so many compliments about how it feels – it’s so open and light and there’s so many interesting things going on in every corner. 

That’s partly facilitated by the design – multiple view lines means people can see what’s going on in different parts of the building.  

We’ve had a lot of feedback from freelancers who say that it’s a great place to meet other people. Freelancers can feel isolated because they just don’t get the same social interaction as employees. Yonder provides a hub for freelancers; a place where the creative, climbing and yoga communities can coalesce. 

Allwork.Space: Do you have any near-future plans in the pipeline?

As well as the schools partnerships we’re going to start running a Friday Night Live event with live music once a month. 

We host climbing competitions which usually have some kind of afterparty and we’ve done a few community events which have been really popular, so we’re thinking about how we can develop that side of the business.
To keep up-to-date with Yonder and find out more, follow @yondere17 on Instagram.

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