“So many people are trying to follow their dreams, but are held back by money. With the way the world’s gone, space2make is the perfect solution.”Piers RossManaging Director, All Scene, All Props
While some businesses grow steadily but surely, others are driven by necessity.
When Covid-19 forced the closure of the UK’s theatres in March 2020, Piers Ross, MD of Frant, East Sussex-based setmaker All Scene All Props, recognised the need for a new direction.
“It still pains me to say it, but we could see the writing on the wall for the entertainment industry, even back then,” he recalls. For 15 years, Piers’ business had created backdrops for theatrical productions, including some of the biggest West End shows (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the highest-grossing example).
“When the first lockdown was announced, we had four sets in the workshop – but all our work disappeared overnight,” Piers continues. Rather than waiting to see how the crisis would pan out, he reacted. With the help of his colleague Danny Hayter, he set about transforming the business’ 22,000ft2 facility into a collaborative working enterprise – space2make.
“We’d already envisaged creating some sort of ‘hackerspace’ here, where people could come together to use our machinery and share skills,” says Danny, who applied his practical skills to clearing the building, setting up various working spaces within it, and preparing the existing wood and metal workshops, painting area, CNC router, laser cutter and 3D printer for all comers.
It didn’t take long for space2make to attract new tenants. One of the first was Paul Cameron, a designer/maker of modular garden offices and motoring sculptures, who also brought his marketing savvy to the table.
“It’s definitely been a collaborative effort,” says Paul. “There’s so many different skills you need when establishing a place like this. But we understand what people need from a creative space – it’s not your typical landlord/tenant arrangement.”
Having already enlisted local and national media to spread the word, Paul juggles his day job with further outreach through social media and studios, colleges and art collectives across Kent and Sussex.
“The biggest battle is explaining how this building works,” notes Piers. “Whether you want to make, work or learn, you don’t need to make a long-term investment. We only ask for four weeks’ commitment here, and our rates are incredibly low. Yes, there are similar-looking set-ups in Brighton and London, but this is the only offering of this nature in our area and we’re definitely taking our own path.”
Space2make’s leafy, semi-rural location just outside of Tunbridge Wells makes it a perfect setting for creative industry, while good road and rail links (Frant station is just 55 minutes from central London) ensure accessibility. There’s even a local pub and woodland walks for lunchtime breakout sessions.
The building itself is spacious and airy, and comprises a mix of open workspaces, offices and enclosed studios across two levels, plus a communal area, meeting room, kitchen and amenities.
Danny has refurbished the interior to complement the original Victorian structure, creating a blend of temporary and permanent working zones, plus social areas. Occupants can rent space for as little as £40 per week (including rates), and pay extra if they want to use the machinery or expand their footprint.
The collaborative set-up brings tangible benefits, says Paul:
“If people need materials, space2make has good purchasing power, thanks to Piers’ existing contacts. They can share orders, and we keep quite a bit in stock in case it’s needed. We can even unload deliveries for them.”
At its heart, though, the business was designed to bring people together. There's a sense of warmth and bonhomie throughout, and for makers or artists looking to learn new skills, develop their contacts or find inspiration and encouragement from those around them, that’s invaluable.
“I returned to the area from London, but outgrew my space, so came here,” says fine artist and printer, Neal Scrase. “There’s creative people around me doing similar work, providing technical support, and even sending jobs my way – I’ve grown my business by +30% already. It’s a much more professional environment, great for receiving visiting customers, and there’s the potential to grow and learn new skills."
"Working alone can be soul destroying. It’s so important for new and small businesses to have a support network around them – you can’t put a price on that."
Painter Jeni Johnson, who has signalled her commitment by adding a studio window at her own expense, agrees.
I love working in a community space,” she says, “especially one that’s so full of different makers and skilled people. At the moment, it’s my painting studio – but I’m planning to hold an exhibition here, and to learn my way around the laser cutter so I can start making wearable jewellery.”
Mark Hurcombe, another prop and scenery builder, relocated his business here from London to be closer to home, and found all the facilities he needed.
"I love its flexibility," he says.
"You can grow and shrink your footprint depending on your needs. All the tools are readily available and maintained for us. And it’s brilliant for finding specialists – as soon as we realised people around us were able to help out, there was no stopping us!"
Elsewhere, Adrian Epps, who ran international classic car rallies before Covid-19 put the brakes on his business, makes desk units and book stands. Former All Scene All Props draftsman and cabinetmaker Jack Clark makes guitars, while artist Claire Luxton pursues photography, poetry and painting.
Another example is Dave ‘the explorer’ Brophy, a former software engineer who’s building an around-the-world exhibition vehicle from scratch, utilising space2make’s CNC facilities and Danny Hayter’s practical advice.
Like many, Dave rented a temporary space before choosing to move in.
"There’s people coming to visit continually, and, more often than not, they move in, bringing more energy to the building" says Danny. "If someone takes a studio, the ones around it soon fill up."
Ultimately, space2make, a product of the pandemic, is an expression of the new ways of working and living it has stimulated. With fresh appreciation for craft, work/life balance, buying local product and co-working, Piers’ business brings a vital, vibrant opportunity to the East Sussex border. And with plans to further develop the building and run art classes, evening talks and workshops, this collaboration station is just coming to life.
“It’s a place to work, build, craft and learn, all at minimal financial risk,” Piers concludes. “So many people are trying to follow their dreams, but are held back by money. With the way the world’s gone, space2make is the perfect solution.”
To find out more visit the Space2Make website www.space2make.co.uk
Locate East Sussex is pleased to have had the opportunity to explore this unique creative space in East Sussex. Bringing like-minded artists and makers together in an inspiring location is to us the future of the industry, and we are excited for what comes next.
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