Igniting Cork’s Culture Co-Working revolution

Once the beating heart of industry in Cork, the former Ford and Dunlop site in Cork is now very much at the heart of the future of work thanks to a growing community of businesses such as Culture Co-Working.

In 1917 Ford opened a plant in Cork to manufacture tractors. Over the span of 67 years the factory produced iconic cars including the Cortina and the Escort, with the last Sierra rolling off the assembly line in 1984.

At its peak the Ford factory employed 7,000 people and the site extended over 18 acres. Dunlop had been in Cork since 1935 and at its peak in 1972, employed 1,800 people.

“In a way, it is like Cork’s best-kept secret. There are probably more people working here on this site today than there were in the heyday of Ford and Dunlop”

Today, a few art deco buildings and various Dunlop tyre signs are all that remain to betray the site’s proud industrial heritage, but there is something of a buzz going on too in what is today known as Marina Commercial Park, beside the River Lee as it meanders to the sea. Businesses of all shapes and sizes are active on the site.

In one of the few remaining art deco buildings, the 21st century workplace replete with designer furniture and bright lighting with is humming into life. Workers ranging from self-employed entrepreneurs to staffers from a myriad of financial and tech multinationals work quietly in what is an oasis of productivity away from curious kids or a clever way to avoid city-centre traffic.

Welcome to Culture Co-Working, the brainchild of entrepreneur Andrew Whitaker (pictured above) who is now considering plans to bring his co-working model to other towns and cities, including potentially Thurles and Limerick.

“My background is 18 years in the motor trade in a family business and my base degree is in IT. I wanted to try my hand at something new but something I would be good at. I looked around and I have a young family and work-life balance was kind of skewed and I was working six-day weeks, I wasn’t seeing my family and needed somewhere quiet to work.”

Build it and they will come

White art decco building with red window panes.

The Culture Co-Working space in Cork. Image: John Kennedy

Whitaker’s problem became the solution and he decided to create a workplace environment for people with the same needs. “There needed to be a place for people to work hard but need support like parking and an office that is there for them 24/7.”

And so Culture Co-working was born and Whitaker wanted to offer something that was different from existing shared office spaces.

He began work on the project in Autumn 2017 and opened the workspace in August 2018. He funded the project through a combination of bootstrapping and working with banking partner Bank of Ireland. “Bank of Ireland were very helpful and professional and everything we needed was done on time. The most important factor was encouragement and if I needed any advice they were always on hand.

“When you are a one-man band like me, it can be a bit lonely and intimidating but they were on hand with support and encouragement and included me in networking events. But the encouragement was the big thing.”

For Whitaker, the challenge was also offering something different in a space where co-working hubs are popping up in most towns and cities. The answer, peace of mind allied with flexibility.

“There are a few co-working players in Cork already like Republic of Work and Plus 10 but I wanted to create a space for people like me. I’m not necessarily going after the start-ups or tech companies, but people who might be slightly older, have families and might be working for companies based in Dublin or London.

“My IT degree is from a long time ago and I haven’t worked with venture capital or the IT industry, but I do know how to look after people, and that was the whole genesis of Culture Co-working. If someone needs a work solution, I can make it work 95pc of the time.

“People work here at all times of the day – at night, in the morning, at the weekends. The community of members is really growing. Some of our members just need to work for four or five hours and focus on something, and also we are seeing businesses join as members who have downsized from having an office on the South Mall in Cork and see this as a more viable option. These would include members are sales people who are on the road a lot and who like to take advantage of the flexibility the space offers, such as the free parking.”

Client companies include companies like Pinergy, Teamwork and Six Leasing. “Many client companies you wouldn’t associate with the co-working space but it works perfectly for them.”

Whitaker’s point is that co-working isn’t necessarily something for techies or start-ups, it presents an avenue of opportunity for businesses that need to downsize or who have regionally-based executives like sales people. “My background is in sales so I can relate to these people.”

While there is a bit of a buzz around flexible or remote working, Whitaker explains that there is a genuine need for flexibility. “It’s a mixture really. Often people just need to get away from family to get things done and often we have people who work in organisations who just need an alternative space to focus to get things done, be it a number of hours or days per week.

“At Culture Co-working you come here when you like and you leave when you like.

“The nice thing is we don’t really have one type of customer, we are seeing a mix of different industries, ages, you name it. But the one thing in common? They all want to get their work done and then go home and enjoy a good work-life balance.”

Another draw is that the location at the former Ford manufacturing plant means that people can drop into Culture Co-working without having to go into the city centre of Cork. But at the same time they are within walking distance of amenities like a buzzing restaurant scene.

“The park itself is coming to life, there are lots of different businesses and industries here now so in a way it is becoming its own business ecosystem.

“In a way, it is like Cork’s best-kept secret. There are probably more people working here on this site today than there were in the heyday of Ford and Dunlop.”

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 7 January, 2020