Polly Robbins: Space4 manager

Estimated reading time:5 minutes, 26 seconds

Everyone has a story. There’s a new network for tech cooperatives based in Fonthill Road. Here Space4 Manager Polly Robbins explains what Outlandish and Space4 do, plus provides many reasons why she likes working in Finsbury Park. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill

Polly Robbins: Space 4 manager. (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

It’s 10am and Polly Robbins offers me green tea in the bright, spacious kitchen on the first floor of a building in Fonthill Road – Islington’s fast fashion district – to introduce a very modern way of working, a new coworking space for progressive technology companies. On the first floor residents are just settling into their desk space. At the far end is a large events room with a window along one wall and a green mural on the other. It looks as good for a staff away day as a party venue. The atmosphere is calm, but definitely hard working, and that’s down to Polly’s influence.

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Brought up in Tufnell Park, Polly, now 30, lives in Clapton. She went to school at Acland Burghley and then on to Manchester University to study History & Sociology. Until July she was using a grant from European Young Entrepreneurs to work in Lisbon, Portugal, but then her brother, Harry, called, asking her to be the space manager at Outlandish’s new coworking space, Space4.  

Outlandish, set up eight years ago,  is a tech company with a twist: it’s a worker cooperative aiming to make the world a better place through the use of digital technology. People who work at Outlandish can become members after a year.  Already there are nine official Outlandish members, plus around 15 collaborators.

Outlandish specialises in creating big data projects for progressive projects: trade unions (their pre election schoolcuts.org.uk campaign, in partnership with the NUT, had a million clicks in a week); politicians (they did the Jeremy Corbyn website appropriately enough as JC lives nearby); global activists (they have been working on a project to help Papua New Guinea activists fight corruption); charities; and other worker cooperatives.

At the end of the year, Outlandish members vote on how to spend the co-operative’s surplus – with the stipulation that it should be reinvested in projects that help more people work on technology that makes a difference. In 2016 it hosted seven Outlandish fellows working on diverse new-tech projects including an app to enable ethical brand shopping; a new journey planner system for cyclists and better ways to diagnose TB in resource poor settings.

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Places Polly Robbins loves in Islington

  • Highbury Fields is so relaxing and I’ve also got fond memories of fireworks night there.
  • I’ve seen great shows at the Hen & Chickens theatre pub.
  • Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park is good. There’s also an amazing underground reservoir – vaulted and Victorian – in Finsbury Park. I’ve been down there, it’s damp, but imagine if it was a nightclub…
  • I’m obsessed with food so love Seven Sisters and Blackstock Road. It has amazing restaurants for lunch. There’s an Afghan one, Yum, with incredible lemony dumplings. And Blue Nile specialises in Ethiopian injera with all the toppings. Dotori (Korean) is amazing too. http://yumafghangrill.co.uk
  • The main thing I love about Finsbury Park is that within half a mile radius you can get Turkish, Greek, Ethiopian and French food, everything. It’s such a melting pot. I’ve had lots of jobs in central London but it’s all sterile chain restaurants. There’s no character to any of them – menus are so predictable and there’s nothing special.
  • I’ve bought things from Bright Sparks (which used to train apprentices to recondition electrical items) though mainly furniture.

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The Outlandish team in Space4. Polly Robbins is top row, centre: “You don’t relate the tech industry with co-ops so we’re putting together a case for co-ops being a viable solution.” (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Space4 – officially launched in October 2017 – is the latest way for Outlandish to reinvest its surplus and support progressive digital projects. It is a co-working and events space that hosts other cooperatives, start-ups, charities and social enterprises. It has about 25 people working on projects that range from designing augmented and virtual reality apps, to helping governments and charities use data in an open way.

Already nearly 30 people are using Space4’s co-working space – which has 25 desks and an event room that can fit 50 people. Islington Faces’ friend SpeakStreet – which offers free English classes to refugees and migrants as well as fun language learning – is just one of the local organisations that have taken desk space. Prices are around £200 +VAT per month for a desk.

Space4 is also running a variety of workshops and events. These include sessions to boost the numbers of women in technology, how to set up a co-op, diversity in technology and free coding workshops for local residents. Polly also wants to run repair cafes, pointing out that this, “gets people out of their house so they can make friends, meet people they wouldn’t normally meet and tackles a horrible culture of throwing things away.”

“Co-ops have a reputation of being all hippies,” says Polly. “You don’t relate the tech industry with co-ops so we’re putting together a case for co-ops being a viable solution.”  Already Outlandish insists that its top developers cannot be paid more than three times its lowest paid staff. This means that if their cleaner is paid £125 a day (pro rata) then the top salary is £375 a day.

For anyone with new tech ambitions to change the world then this corner of Islington is becoming the obvious place to go. So what are you waiting for? Now is the time to explore the website and see if it suits you.

Outlandish & Space4 are based at 149 Fonthill Road, N4

http://space4.tech

https://outlandish.com

Twitter @outlandish

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com. Thank you to Dorothy Newton for this suggestion.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola