First, a big warm thank you to our team, members, local communities, event organisers, suppliers, landlords, investors, supporters and to anyone who’s ever come through our doors or told a friend. You are making a difference to how thousands of people work, discover and meet as communities every day.
My annual letters (2022 and 2023) allow me to share back honest reflections on what we learned last year, and a preview for what’s to come. Although we tripled in size in 2023, I’ve been reflecting back to the original vision that started it all.
Defining the new category, our term ‘Work Near Home’ has gained widespread traction, adopted by industry friends and the BBC as we define a new, human-centric way of working. I’ll go on to discuss our plans for 2024, when we plan to double our impact again.
It’s now four years since I started the work which culminated in the Work Near Home manifesto, published in March 2021. This document is our vision statement, and remains our positive case for the new category that Patch is building, for “what we can achieve by reinvesting our time, money and talent into the places and people near where we live”. I’ll refer back to some more of the original wording throughout this letter.
‘Big picture’ and daily delivery are different things, and one does not automatically follow the other. As we start to deliver at scale across the country, this year’s letter will check in against those founding ideas and reflect on how the delivery of the Work Near Home vision is evolving.
Freddie Fforde, January 2024
I. The Work Near Home vision: 4 years in
II. Doubling impact in 2023
III. Doubling again in 2024
The Work Near Home vision: 4 years in
Maintaining delivery without sacrificing the principles laid out in the manifesto across a growing and more complex organisation is a rewarding challenge. We aspire to be both local and national, authentically crafted and repeatedly reliable, high impact but low friction.
Whilst 2023 has been a year of extraordinary growth, I believe we are staying true to the ideas first laid out in 2021 as we convert these words into action. Referring back to the manifesto:
“Making choices to enable our physical, mental and environmental well-being, feel intuitively right to most people. At Patch, we call this collection of choices Work Near Home, a world where our work and personal lives are in concert, not in competition."
Vision into action - our operating Mission and Values
This vision has crystallised over the last 2 years into an operating mission that informs our priorities, ‘to create opportunity for people, work and communities on every UK high street’. We are building a distributed organisation with strong local leadership.
To support each other, we have been working to three coordinating Values, which have so far held since day 1. Our focus on people and places is reflected in our first value ‘Near’. This idea is at the heart of Patch, enabling and empowering local communities. Patch is not a coworking business. We are building the Work Near Home world to empower places everywhere.
Changing work trends are not going away, with flexible trends remaining consistently flat at around 25% of all work time, across geographies. This has a dramatic secondary effect on everything we do. We’re suddenly spending 40% of our week in our neighbourhoods, which has a fundamental impact on what we expect from them.
Our host role for life’s wider needs is reflected in our second value ‘Balance’ - for our mental and physical health, our families, our local economies and our environment. We have started with coworking, a public cafe and welcoming event spaces. As I’ve previously discussed, our horizon is a new form of department store, a mixed environment with a wide range of uses to support modern living.
The third is ‘Built to Last’, aiming to create a permanent good in society, building trust for the long term. On this theme, we’ve learned a lot about the complexity of our message to new audiences. To support this challenge, we relaunched our brand in April, as introduced by Paloma. A personal favourite is the new logo blocks for each site, representing every Patch in a form specific to that building.
Revisiting the manifesto: "to summarise, Work Near Home means
- Emphasis on individual needs, our families and our health
- Empowerment of local networks, pride in place for communities
- The enabling impact of technology for access to opportunity"
Doubling impact in 2023
This year, we in fact tripled our footprint, from one site to three. Each Patch we operate is enhanced by the next Patch we open. Our goal is to build a ‘network of networks’, enabling communities to celebrate the best of what is local to them whilst also making connections across the Patch ecosystem to support their wider ambition.
You can see each of our thoughtfully designed sites, each local landmarks in their own right, with virtual walkthroughs in Chelmsford, to High Wycombe and Twickenham. We’re particularly grateful to the support of BIG South London at Twickenham, the first time we’ve worked in depth with local authorities to extend the reach of our work.
A lighthouse for local life
This growth means a dramatic increase in our impact. Since this time last year, we have grown from just over 100 members to over 500 members, from 250 annual events to over 500, and from 3,000 attendees to 8,000 through our doors.
One of our largest ever events was for children, a half term slime workshop, with over 200 little guests! We have supported free places for school apprentices, over 200 free events and acted as a drop off for hundreds of Christmas donations. The beneficiary of one small act wrote a moving note about what this meant to him and the children in conflict zones that his charity supports. You can hear an interview between us both on the role of impact at Patch on his podcast, the Karmic Capitalist.
Whilst we are choosing not to push our product set too broadly, too early, we have kept experimenting with our suite of public offers to serve the Work Near Home world (‘Patch is not a coworking business’). Most recently this included the installation of our first ‘Library of Things’, a publicly accessible library, where the community can rent out objects from D-I-Y tools to garden machinery. The introduction was made by Alexis, a Patch member in Twickenham - and LoT's Head of Finance and is supported by the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames.
In 2022’s annual letter, I talked about the wonder of being welcomed into Chelmsford, “local communities are truly special things”. The big bet with Patch was that we could be welcomed into new communities, with a promise of future support but no local evidence to back that up. Just as we hoped and expected, there was nothing to fear.
A Patch on every high street
The warmth with which we’ve been received and supported in our new locations, from civic organisations to new members, networking groups and educational institutions, and above all people discovering Patch every day, has been extraordinary. We even brewed our own Patch beer with local partners in Twickenham.
A good example is the engagement of Business Improvement Districts, co-ordinating the Christmas lights switch on with our local craft makers market in all locations. Members of the Patch team have now joined the BID Board, and are a regular presence at other local meetups (many of which now take place at Patch).
This ‘Near’ theme continues with the supply of important items around our sites from within local communities. All sites proudly stock Two Spoons Tea for members (from High Wycombe), Coffee Officina coffee (from Chelmsford) and Made Kind handwash (from Twickenham). We hope to continue this theme with every site.
Collaborations continue in the space too, with the expansion of the excellent Django’s as our cafe partner. From one converted horse box a few months ago, Chris will soon run from multiple Patch locations. New deals, employment offers and even businesses are being made at Patch every day, both in the sites and across the network of networks.
We fundamentally believe in the untapped potential of talented and creative people around the country, and these examples are some of the ways in which we’re starting to demonstrate this. Repeating themes have developed around education, music, family and wellness.
As we expand further, our challenge will be whether we push deeper into community needs we already serve, such as with more specific facilities, or when we go wider into new needs that help us support a wider audience. Everyone should feel welcome at Patch, no matter the time of day or particular interest, we want to support you.
"There is a simple belief that underlies our model - that people everywhere are talented and creative, all you need to do is offer them space and wonderful things will happen. "
Doubling again in 2024
Looking ahead is both the most exciting part of these reflections and the most challenging. We simply don’t know what opportunities lay ahead of us but our ambition is to double the company footprint again. We are making more explicit efforts with landlords, developers and councils around the country to bring Patch to their high street.
As well as what we want to achieve, we think a lot about how and why these milestones matter. Is it always right to be bigger and faster than the year before? Sustainability, that balance between authenticity and scale, is discussed every day.
These conversations have led to the development of a new internal initiative, the ‘Culture of Care’, which is starting to pervade every element of the business. How do we apply care in our approach to the customer experience? To our product ideals? To our hiring and professional development? Care will be the term we use as an internal binding agent as we grow.
At the centre of everything we do is our team, and specifically, our site teams. We doubled our employees last year and expect to get close to that again this year. This is my biggest responsibility and the part of building Patch I enjoy the most. Everyone is invited to join in the shareholding of the business so that we are all owners.
The passion the team's express for our mission, for their communities and for their personal development, is the part of Patch I am most proud of and am most keen to nurture.
We must also remain responsible in our business practice. In December, we were formally certified as a B Corporation, a rigorous assessment that also legally commits us to serving the needs of all stakeholders, not just shareholders, with a focus on our customers and the environment. We’ve been working on how we hold ourselves accountable to the broad social aims of our business, and this is only our starting point.
If you’d like to learn more about Patch, or register your interest for a Patch on your high street, please let us know by registering here. Please feel free to be in touch with your local Patch via the details on our website www.patch.work or simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org