Adapting, renovating & co-working – catching up with Port 57’s Karl March
It was 2012 when I first came across what is now Port 57 co-working studio and the man who runs it.
Over the years it has gone through a few transformations, from being luminous green, to graffiti and art covered walls for an exhibition, and now to what it is today.
I decided to catch up with good friend Karl March to find out what’s been going on with the infamous studio on Albert Road, and how the pandemic has affected business.
Karl, as we know, you run Port 57 co-working studio on Albert Road, for those who aren’t familiar, can you tell us about that?
KM: “I took on the building in April 2011 and started an art supply shop, screen printing facility and exhibition space called Bonzo… I added a few desks that were made of the flimsiest MDF on Earth just to fill some space and that’s how it all started! I realised quickly that the desks were the biggest asset and after a year I phased out the other aspects of the business and concentrated on coworking.
It’s been a weird, messy but rewarding journey. So many things have happened there over the years – projects, friendships, hack nights, exhibitions, parties – the whole lot!”
How have things changed since the first lockdown in March?
KM: “When the first lockdown was announced I thought Port 57 was finished in all honesty. We hadn’t had the best end to 2019 financially anyway and a global pandemic with an unknown outcome was the final straw.
But with a bit of support from both the COVID funding available and private investment meant we were able to use the lockdown to regroup and plan a new future for the studio including a renovation. I know it’s going to be slow going getting back to where we were but we’re hopefully in a good place to rebuild.”
I came down to visit you during the renovation, it was quite an amazing transformation! How have things been going since then?
KM: “Thanks! The renovation was two solid months of learning how to mix concrete and finding out that carpet tiles aren’t as easy as they look (especially when you’re trying to recreate Minecraft pixel textures with them…) We conveniently reopened 2 weeks before the latest lockdown was announced so it felt like a firework with a long fuse that just fizzles out before launch.
A few of our die hard regulars returned immediately but before we could so much as blink we were knocked sideways by further COVID legislation.”
I saw this week that you’re able to continue to operate during lockdown #2, that must be a relief?
KM: “Well this lockdown feels nothing like the last one. I remember only leaving the house to go to the Co-op before scuttling back with a loaf of bread and as many BrewDog beers as I could carry. This time the roads are busy, the kids are at school – it isn’t the ghost town that we had for the spring.
The government haven’t specified lockdown rules for offices and so, with some advice from the local authority, we have stayed open with a stricter regime of cleaning and the usual COVID regulations. Working from home isn’t an option for everyone whether that be a lack of space, poor internet connection etc and we’re here to fill that gap.”
How does someone book a space at Port 57 and what kind of experience can they expect?
KM: “You can apply for an account on our website – port57.com – and then choose an option that suits you best. You can have a Dedicated Desk, or pick one of the monthly hour-based Hot Desk plans available.
We are a relaxed and friendly bunch and we try and create more of a community vibe than everyone working in isolation (although obviously slightly more difficult with COVID regulations!) Expect people sharing their thoughts on something funny they’ve seen involving a dog on the internet, the odd Coffee and Tea round and a general light-hearted atmosphere.”
You’re always a busy bee, and you’ve also launched another venture this week, can you tell us about ‘Dark Adaptation’?
KM: “I’m a massive nerd. For years I have followed the latest NASA or ESA missions, as well as having a historical love of the 1950s/1960s American space programmes Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. I wrote to NASA as I really wanted to sell giant prints and merchandise based on some of the more unusual images from across the years of space exploration and they agreed!
I’ve got some safe images such as the Orion Nebula and Hubble Deep Field but I want to offer some of the quirkier images for print (such as the Hassleblad images of Neil Armstrong wandering round a desert in the US in a full spacesuit trying to learn how to use a spade…)”
Visit the online shop Dark Adaptation.
What has been your biggest takeaway from the whole ‘running a business during lockdown’ experience?
KM: “Without sounding too dramatic, I’ve realised how fragile a business (and a society) can be when the rules are changed as dramatically as they have this year.
I’ve been lucky that my graphic design work has kept the lights on – it’s given me time to really think about the kind of businesses I want to run. Hopefully when things go back to normal I’ll be given the chance to get the full plans in action.”
Thanks Karl, looking forward to seeing you after lockdown!
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