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Down to business: Greenhouse HQ founder Rosie Manning

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Down to business: Greenhouse HQ founder Rosie Manning
Rosie Manning tells us all about how she created The Greenhouse HQ, Leeds’ most inviting co-working space for freelance creatives.

Reader’s Digest: How did your business get started, and how would you best summarise what you offer?

The Greenhouse is a creative co-working space for freelance designers, developers, marketers, illustrators, photographers and academics. We’re located in the suburb of Meanwood in the north of Leeds. I like to describe it as a bright and friendly space filled with leafy plants, relaxing tunes and beautiful décor. We offer a vibrant, welcoming backdrop for focused work, tea-drinking and community events.
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Having worked as a freelance web designer for most of the past decade, I know first hand just how isolating the freelancer lifestyle can be. Over the years I’ve tried working from various places—at home, in coffee shops and even at a few different co-working spaces, but none were a good long-term solution. So I decided to set up a space myself—one that felt nothing like a traditional corporate office. I wanted it to be somewhere people would feel instantly comfortable from the moment they stepped through the front door.
When I first took on the space in the summer of 2018, it was an empty shell of an industrial unit with grey concrete walls—a completely blank canvas. With loads of incredible help from my friend Becci and her husband Rik, we were able to slowly transform the space into what it is today (which includes a private studio from which Becci currently runs The Aviary, her own tattoo business.) 
I called in favours from some of my amazing friends, and we spent weekend after weekend painting walls, hanging lights, plumbing the toilet, buying furniture, finding plants, erecting trellises, making signage and building tables. By early 2019 we were ready to open to the public.
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Before that happened, I knew I needed to make sure we had a brand in place. Luckily, I had the help of the extremely talented Eve Warren (currently a brand designer at Robot Food) to design our logo, our colour palette and the rest of our visual identity. I have some support on the marketing and social media side, but most of the day to day running is just little old me!
The challenge for independent co-working spaces is finding the balance between making enough money to stay afloat whilst providing a service that’s not too expensive for freelancers to use. I didn’t set out to earn a huge profit from the endeavour; that was never the end goal. It was all about creating a sustainable space I could share with lovely people, open up for events and—I guess a little selfishly—enjoy working at myself!

RD: What line of work were you in before this business got started?

I’m a brand and web designer by trade. I’ve worked for a number of different agencies, including a stint at Saatchi Design. I also worked in-house for an educational company in West Yorkshire and a health and social abuse charity based in London. I then started freelancing around seven years ago, working with start-ups, social enterprises, music venues and a variety of other businesses, developing their online identities and designing their websites and apps. 
A few months ago I joined the team at the Canadian agency MetaLab as their Principal Brand Designer. Their clients include big global companies like Uber, Slack, VICE and Google. I’m a remote worker, naturally—Vanvouver would be a bit far for a daily commute! Working remotely lets me continue doing what I love with a really amazing agency whilst also managing the day-to-day running of the space.

RD: How does your work complement your personality?

I’m the kind of person who loves to always have a side project on the go. Being able to develop and curate the interior design of the space really appealed to my creative side. I loved sourcing all the second hand-furniture, choosing all the colours and rolling my sleeves up to paint the mural on the wall! I like to keep busy—there’s always something that needs tending to, so it suits the way I am.
rosie and dog
I also like to feel I’m helping bring something to the area and give back to the local community. Meanwood is such a cool part of Leeds—it’s been on the upswing for the past few years, with independent cafes, shops and bars opening all the time. And because I decided to make the space dog-friendly, it means I can bring my golden retriever Sol along with me to work every day!

RD: As the increase in those who freelance continues to rise, co-working spaces have become all the more important. What do you think the main benefits of co-working are?

There are so many. I think one of the biggest appeals is the flexibility. If you want to rent a desk, there are usually different membership packages available—for example, at The Greenhouse we offer full time and part time desk rental, both of which include things like storage, printing and Wi-Fi access. All your bills are included, so you don’t have to worry about any additional costs.
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Others want even more flexibility, which is what hot desks are for—you can drop in whenever, plug in your laptop and you’re good to go. Some people don’t like to be tied down, so this works for them. And with this constant stream of new people coming into these kinds of spaces, it opens up opportunities for collaboration and networking.
Ultimately, co-working gives you access to a lot of the comforts and facilities of home, but it helps draw a clear line between your work life and your home life. Done right, you get a quiet, relaxing environment that encourages focused work, but one that also comes with an in-built community.

RD: It’s so exciting to see spaces like this becoming more necessary as the creative industries begin to spread outside of London, and Leeds is fast becoming a cultural hub of its own—what are your favourite things about the city?

RM: Leeds is a great city with a fantastic calendar of events. There’s always something happening, whether it’s Light Night, Leeds International Film Festival or Leeds Indie Food. It’s packed with amazing restaurants; you can always find something delicious to eat. It’s also a city that’s passionate about good beer—the annual festival at the town hall is always a lot of fun, and there are loads of amazing local brewers such as Anthology or the Meanwood Brewery.
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As a city, I find it tries to be supportive of artists, illustrators and jewellery makers—it’s not hard to stumble across a decent print or craft fair, and you’ll find bars and pubs are always featuring work from local creators. It’s a great city for gigs, plays and films. We’re so lucky to have the Hyde Park Picture House. It’s over 100 years old and a really special place. I’m a big fan of green spaces, and you can’t get much nicer than Roundhay Park, one of my favourite parts of the city. I also love how close we are to the Yorkshire Dales; spectacular scenery is never more than a short drive away.
As a northern city, the cost of living is considerably less than London, and I think more students are starting to stick around after they graduate. It’s not difficult to see why there’s been such a huge surge in tech agencies, media companies and the digital design scene in general. I was lucky enough to speak at the city’s first ever Dribbble meet-up a few years ago, bringing together some of the city’s leading digital designers. As a result of this, I actually went on to host the following event at The Greenhouse earlier this year. 

RD: What does a typical day at Greenhouse HQ look like?

Most days I’m there early. I make sure the kitchen is fully stocked and put on a fresh pot of coffee. There may be a few other chores to attend to—we have a lot of plants, so they might need watering. Residents start arriving at about 8:30am onwards—those who are renting a desk on a monthly basis. Hot deskers are welcome to start dropping in from 10am.
the greenhouse kitchen
Once people are settled in I open my laptop and start cracking on with work. If anyone is interested in looking around the space, I tend to book tours in for late morning or early afternoon. At lunchtime, people either buy something from the nearby supermarket and use the microwave, or we might head out to local cafe. Providing it’s not chucking it down with rain, a bunch of us will probably take the dogs for a walk to the local park in the afternoon.
If there’s an event or workshop on that evening, that might mean staying a bit late to get the space ready. This can involve moving furniture around—especially if it’s something like a yoga class! I also use the evenings to schedule social media posts and do admin, things like invoices and responding to enquiries. I try and encourage everyone to visit one of the local pubs at least once a week—it’s a great chance to unwind with co-workers old and new.

RD: What do you like to do to switch off?

I don’t get much free time these days, but I know how important it is to look after yourself and find time to exercise and relax. I love taking my dog out for long walks in the countryside and I’m a big fan of yoga and spinning—all really good for mental health as well as physical. 
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I also enjoy reading and playing on my Nintendo Switch, usually immersive games I can lose myself in like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Stardew Valley!

RD: What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your job?

I love meeting new people—many of the freelancers I’ve met through co-working have gone on to become really close friends. I enjoy sharing the space with them; even though we’re working on completely different projects, we can support each other through cross-collaboration. Having people around with different skills and disciplines helps original ideas to hatch.
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I also love letting people use the space to run their own events. We’ve hosted a wide mix of things—sign-language workshops, first aid courses, watercolour lessons, embroidery classes and creative networking events. People always seem to compliment the space on being comfortable and unique. 
The only real downside I’ve found so far is the unpredictable heating bills, especially now the weather has turned colder!

RD: What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far?

Trust your instincts. Setting up my own co-working space was completely new to me, so I had to feel my way through the dark. You come to realise who genuinely cares about helping you and I don’t mean in a transactional, “you scratch my back” kind of way. I mean people who want to support you because they care about you and want you to succeed. 
You can’t just wing it though. You need to have some kind of plan in place. For any venture of this kind, figure out all the important stuff beforehand; things like contracts, prices, rules and so on.
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The same goes for your branding—never underestimate the importance of a strong brand. You need to have something consistent and concrete you can fall back on, especially if you don’t have huge advertising budgets. When you’re relying predominantly on social media and word-of-mouth it’s vital you have something to hinge your communications on. 
Let’s face it, we’re all just clamouring for attention—the least we can do is provide something nice for people to look at; something they immediately recognise and understand.

RD: If you weren’t running the Greenhouse, what do you think you would be doing as a career?

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RM: Well, first and foremost I’m still a brand and web designer. The Greenhouse has been a complete labour of love. It’s my passion project, and it’s been so exciting and rewarding bringing it to life. I’ve absolutely loved watching it evolve and grow into a place people enjoy coming to every day.
But if I had to give it all up, I guess I’d really like to work with animals. When I was younger I worked on a farm and I almost trained to be a vet. Perhaps there’s an alternate reality out there where that happened. It’s something I fantasise about from time to time when I’m staring out of the window!

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