In conversation with Shona Chambers, owner of ‘Space at 61’, Peckham’s premier hire venue for small businesses

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Space at 61 is a supper club venue in Peckham, south London, used by small businesses for creative events. I caught up with the venue’s owner and director, Shona Chambers, who talked about her motivation behind opening the space, its popularity with women business owners and her experience as an entrepreneur.

Why did you decide to open Space at 61?

Space at 61 is my second business in the same premises. Originally I opened the business as a cafe and I ran that for three years, at the end of which time there was a lot of community engagement but it just wasn’t profitable. I got some great advice from a friend in the area who’s a stylist and local author who thought loads of people would love to use the space for different things. So I thought I’d just see if I could try and build a new business at the same place. That was in August 2016.

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I didn’t realise this was your second stint with the space. Can you tell me a bit about your journey to entrepreneurship?

Basically my background is in marketing so I’ve got lots of marketing experience from working in quite large financial and media organisations. But nine years ago I became a mum and I had the same experience that a lot of people in the area had which was that there was literally nowhere to go where you could take a child that was nice, cosy and friendly. I kept on passing by this empty unit which had been a butcher shop and I just thought, why not?

I put together quite an ambitious plan and actually sold my family home to put all the money into renovating a really old, dilapidated space. I really went to town with it…probably wouldn’t recommend other people do the same but it really looks great.

So that was my motivation – to create something that just wasn’t there. I’ve never regretted becoming self-employed and I certainly identify as an entrepreneur now.

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Would you say a big part of the reason why the business works is because of the community spirit?

Completely. One thing I would say to other entrepreneurs or small businesses is that you will not move your business forward unless you connect with other people who are trying to do the same thing as you.

There’s a real feeling from people that they want to connect from online to offline these days. Social media is great but it’s almost turning us into these little isolated pockets all around the place – we’re just staring at our screens. We might be liking and following each other but what does that really mean? Space at 61 is very much a place for everything. We try and reach out to other small businesses who basically have an idea and want to try something but they don’t want to have to rent a unit or have a firm commitment. They can rent the space for an hour, half a day or a whole day, and try a workshop they might be wanting to run.

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I know you have a lot of women businesses owners who use the space. Would you say it’s more popular with women?

I have found it’s more popular with women, yes. I think a lot of that links to the trend for a word I don’t much care for which is ‘mumpreneur’, when a woman is raising a family but also running a business. And I don’t like that word because there isn’t an equivalent for men.

The event we had yesterday was for the London Mums Network and the same story kept coming up, which was women with kids who’d been made redundant and the message from their employer was that they were no longer valuable. At that point I think women, especially tenacious, bright, creative people – get busy doing their own thing. That’s where a lot of my customers come from.

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Shona with her two children.

What are your future plans for the space?

I want to make sure I’m maximising the amount of use of the space and that I continue to curate it as well because that’s what’s important to me. I don’t just want any old thing in there. I like to try and work with people and the community wants to do great things.

Follow Shona on Twitter @sathlondonshona and find out more about Space at 61 here.

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