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In the club: Herne Bay venture The Village

20 May 2021

At a time where the world is coming out of lockdowns and isolation, new community-focused clubs are cropping up. We speak to co-founders of Auckland venture The Village, a place working to draw people in rather than keep them out.

WORDS BY Fashion Quarterly New Zealand

Standing left to right is Stacey O'Gorman (who runs the events at The Village), Louise Graham (co-director). Sitting left to right is Sophie Gilmour (co-director) and Lou Ingram (who looks after membership).

When you walk into The Village — a co-working space on Jervois Road in Auckland — you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into someone’s Herne Bay villa.

“We wanted it to feel like a home,” says co-director Louise Graham. She leads me down the hallway past their bookable meeting room with its powder-blue architraves, and the bright-yellow walls of their ‘quiet zone’ — a shared working space. It certainly doesn’t look like any corporate office or co-working space I’ve ever been to.

“Offices can often feel cold and echoey,” she adds. “We didn’t want it to feel like that. We wanted it to feel warm and inviting.”

That it does. We walk into the kitchen, or ‘social zone’, which has a plate of ginger crunch on the counter, and her eight-month-old son Magnus is asleep in his buggy in the corner. The room itself has a couple of tables with some chairs where people can work in what seems to be the epicentre of the space. Dressed in a denim Stella McCartney jumpsuit — a perk from her previous job as the global content and social media manager at the aforementioned design house, Graham jiggles the muslin-draped buggy through the space to point out their other rooms. To one side of the kitchen is an area where they host their events, and on the other, a parent’s room kitted out with a cot.

“We always felt that was really important,” says Graham about the parent’s room. “To be honest, the baby room doesn’t get that much action, so I don’t think other members feel like they’re in a play centre.”

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At a time when people are feeling quite isolated, The Village is part of a new breed of community-focused clubs cropping up. And whether they intend to or not, rather than being exclusive or elitist, these new clubs are offering difference, diversity, and inclusivity. In turn, they’re fostering a community that goes far beyond the idea of a traditional paid-up membership. Instead of pushing people away, they’re working to draw their members, and others, in.

Founders of The Village, Sophie Gilmour and Louise Graham.

Created by Graham and Sophie Gilmour (who is also part owner of Fatima’s and runs her own hospitality consultancy business), The Village is first and foremost a co-working space. It thoughtfully strikes a balance between work, life, and well-being, all among its kaleidoscope-coloured walls.

It’s a home away from home for those searching to work from something more than your generic office hot desk. After many months of planning and searching for the right space, they opened the doors to The Village in July, and although the timing seems to be a reaction to a global pandemic and the subsequent inadequacies of working from home, Gilmour says it’s not.

“A lot of people were saying, ‘Oh, that’s very smart — flexible working [is] all the rage. What a great [Covid-19] response’. But it wasn’t a [Covid-19] response at all,” says the mum of one-year-old Odette. “Before that I was going to meetings and using a breast pump with its awkward noises in the bathroom cubical of the PwC building and it was a nightmare. I just thought, ‘Why isn’t there a place where it’s fine to take your baby?’.”

The pair toyed with the idea of making The Village for women only, but, after further thought, this woman-led operation couldn’t think of any real reason not to make it open to both men and women.

“It’s an inclusivity thing,” says Gilmour. “We wanted to design it so it doesn’t just suit us, but [it suits] everyone. And you want a bit of a balance around with all the personalities and energies. We are definitely not trying to create a closed community.”

It’s clear the fluidity between work and home life is a hit. Even though it’s early on a Thursday morning, a few people trickle through the door and, after being greeted by name, start working independently. They’ve capped their membership at 50 and already have an eclectic mix of members — everyone from musicians to comedians, psychologists to public relations experts, and textile designers to consultants. Some members even come from as far away as Waiheke Island to work for the day. As a result, the members themselves are naturally connecting, which is no surprise considering a perk of the place includes 4pm drinks on a Friday and a once-a-month member’s lunch.

“We don’t force everyone to be best friends,” says Graham. “But it’s nice when it happens. We have one girl here working on setting up hives and making honey, and then another girl who is a textile designer and creating jackets with beeswax. They connected together and [one supplied the other] with beeswax. We really get a kick out of it when we see people from different industries collaborating.”

What’s unique about their space is their community often extends beyond their members. They host frequent events, organised by part-owner Stacey O’Gorman, which are not just member-only but are open to the general public. There is yoga twice a week and classes on meditation, art, and cooking, as well as talks and panel discussions, which cover everything from where to invest your money to how to create a business strategy. Prior to the election, they invited someone to come and talk about the cannabis referendum. Ultimately, the goal is to bring people together to share knowledge and ideas, whether you’re a member of The Village or not.

“From my point of view, it’s about being able to host people and make them feel comfortable in whatever space they want to be in,” says Gilmour.

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