Last year, I wrote an update for anyone who has signed up to follow our journey, and this year I’ve decided to give it another go. It’s my way of sharing what we’ve learned, and demonstrating my commitment to all of you who are supporting our goals at Patch. 

If you’re reading this but haven’t already got a Patch on your high street, please register here, share with your friends, and we’ll get working on it right away.

Freddie Fforde, January 2023

I. 2022: What we’ve learned

This time last year, we’d only been operating for 2 months. We were full of optimism for the 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. 

I’m writing to you after a year that has exceeded all expectations. With over 130 members, 250 events, 3,000 attendees, and reaching profitability after 6 months, we are confident in achieving our mission - to create opportunity for people, work and communities on every UK High Street.

Walk into Patch Chelmsford on any weekday and you’ll meet established local business teams in marketing and construction, hybrid workers from universities and accountancies, self employed architects, startups in fashion, tech and education. 

You might meet them over a members’ lunch, at one of our quarterly Open House parties (all are invited), or attending a Patch-led event, such as November’s sustainability themed Seasons talk, featuring, amongst others, the co-founders of Innocent Drinks, sustainability investors Eka VC and Hived, zero emissions delivery.

If there is a secret to our success in Chelmsford, it has been Naomi and Elle, our site team. They have set a clear tone for our future. We have structured our business around the site teams, and refer to the central team as the ‘Support Team’. I have written elsewhere about our inspirations for this model.

In short, our belief in people is not just simple but it’s also true.

An Ignite Chelmsford event hosted in Patch Academy (Image credit: Philipp Ebeling)

II. The Work Near Home world

Patch is not a coworking space. We are just starting our journey to building something much more interesting, a family of spaces that supports a life of less commuting, more community. Technology is not going backwards or away, the majority of us can now do more work near to where we live and near to what we love.

Last year, I discussed how we might replace Debenhams. We’ve now clarified this strategy. Over time, Patch will meet members where they want to be: in the building (for in person activities, or use of our facilities), outside of the building (for health, wellness or retreats), and online (how might the aspiring designer in Norwich learn from the practised professional in Stockport?).

Today, our focus is in the building. Come by Patch one afternoon or weekend, and perhaps you’re attending one of several networking groups aimed at supporting women. Maybe you’re here for a class on foraging, or a children’s book reading. Or, you’re one of 400 attending our Christmas Makers Market of local artisans, or just stopping by for advice on personal tax planning between work and the school run.

One of the year’s most encouraging themes is how organic and diverse the inflow of quality events has been to Patch. The Essex Cultural Diversity Project came to meet at Patch. The Prince’s Trust hosts public events at Patch. ‘BBC Introducing’ took over the whole building, with more than 100 people attending a series of workshops for new musicians. We didn’t seek them, they sought us. Talented and creative people are everywhere.

We hope that our message encourages communities to think that Patch is the obvious place to come together. If so, we have to earn this right every single day.

The people who work at Patch are here because we have shared social aims, an inclusive vision about which many have written in detail on our blog. We have been thinking hard about how we formalise this impact work, aware both of being small and also needing to point in the right direction from the start.

One of the steps we’ve taken is to register as a B Corporation, for which we are waiting approval. We’re excited about supporting the global movement but really it should reflect the values we anyway hold. We are working hard to measure how we support new and better forms of access to work, culture and community for those who might otherwise be excluded.

One way this reflects so far is that our membership is majority female, though we need to build better representation across all membership types. We have a huge challenge ahead to build the Work Near Home world for everyone, not least improving diversity, equity and inclusion in forms other than gender. I look forward to reporting progress.

A 'Women In Business Network' (WIBN) hosted in Patch Academy (Image credit: Philipp Ebeling)

III. 2023: Looking ahead

There is no escaping the economic reality we are now in. The trouble for our personal pockets, our shared high streets and sectors within the property industry more widely is varied and challenging. There is real pain, negativity and loss.

Our near term mantra is to buck these trends. We want ‘to be the good news’. We are safe, warm, accessible, open, affordable and promote a positive message of inclusion. Come to Patch, for work, for play, for events, for a coffee, to meet people, to try something new, to discover, read, buy, sell or just be curious.

We have a lot of announcements to make for the year ahead, including the location of new sites, a new brand identity, fundraising and more… but we are co-ordinating this news with various partners and friends to tell you about more in March.

For now, let me introduce all of the wonderful new team members who have rounded out our core team, and who will be building the Patch Work Near Home world.

Since January last year, regular readers will have already met Alexa, and Jamie, who has now moved on after having squeezed an interim stint in with us. We’ve since welcomed three new faces, and will be hiring one more.

Jessi Haymon Gorlov came to Patch as Head of Property, leading the search for new buildings and bringing them into the team for conversion to Patch. Previously, Jessi acted as legal transactional lead for BlackRock's European and UK real estate investment funds.

Ben Newton has joined as Head of Operations from a background in F&B and specialty coffee. Most recently, Ben led the expansion of The Gentlemen Baristas' across London. He has written about his reasons for joining Patch here.

Finally, there is a new role in development for a junior architect or interior designer, to help shape our new locations. We are working on the full description, please register your interest here.

Along with Varun and Paloma, our expanded team are all working very hard to bring this future to life. Scaling a responsible, authentic, locally led social business to many new high streets is hard, but we are ready. We want to have the greatest impact possible, reaching as many people, places and interests as we can, as underlined by our mission statement. 

We won’t always get everything right, but I hope that by expressing this letter to you in honesty, you can believe that we will give it our best shot. If you’d like to be part of the journey, please don’t forget to register for a Patch near you, and share with your friends. Thank you for your support.

Patch's founder, Freddie Fforde (Image credit: Jasmine-Leann Gaterell)