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Unicorn Studios is Suffolk's thriving freelancer hub

PUBLISHED: 18:30 08 January 2020

Unicorn Studios is based in Orwell Place, in Ipswich town centre

Unicorn Studios is based in Orwell Place, in Ipswich town centre

Rob Simpson

Based in Ipswich town centre, Unicorn Studios offers a vital coworking space for Suffolk's growing freelance community

The East of England is becoming a freelance hotspotThe East of England is becoming a freelance hotspot

The way we work is changing. Armed with just a laptop and a reliable internet connection, many of us can comfortably tick off our daily tasks - theoretically, from anywhere in the world. Remote working is on the rise, with a growing number of workers ditching the 9-to-5 in favour of more flexible freelance careers. Last year, there was a 31% increase in people looking to go freelance, according to data collected by Simply Business. The research also showed that East Anglia has emerged as a freelancer hotspot, coming second only to the Midlands as the region with the most remote workers.

But as opportunities grow ever more plentiful and profitable for freelancers, many self-employed people are struggling to adjust to this new, remote way of working. Some 45% of freelancers have reported feelings of loneliness and isolation since working from home, while others miss being able to bounce ideas off their co-workers when they make the switch to full-time self employment. And then there's also the issue of establishing a healthy work-life balance: when your home is also your office, it can be hard to set boundaries and to know when to shut down your laptop and call it a day.

For those missing the social interaction of a busy office or the routine of a structured work day, co-working spaces provide a solution to these problems. Last year, flexible workspaces totalled 11.5 million square feet in London alone, with more locations popping up around the country as demand grows. This summer, Unicorn Studios opened its doors in central Ipswich, offering a unique working space to freelancers, creatives and small businesses.

"I found it quite a difficult adjustment when I made the leap from a full-time office job to full-time freelance," said Unicorn founder Rob Simpson. "Suddenly you go from being around people every day to working alone at home, and it can be quite lonely at times."

This led Rob to look for some shared office space, and for a while, he based his graphic design business out of the Waterfront Studio at the University of Suffolk. But when the university needed the space back for student use, Rob decided to look for something new. Joining up with fellow freelancers Steve Butterworth and Dan Sloane, who he met at the Waterfront Studios, Rob stumbled upon the former Unicorn pub in Orwell Place. With large, bright windows, lofty ceilings and ample room, the merits of the space were instantly evident.

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"The space gave us everything we were looking for," said Rob. "Practically, it had room for all of our needs, but it also had plenty of potential and room to grow."

In the few months since its opening, Unicorn Studios has created quite some buzz among the local creative scene. An eclectic mix of professionals have signed up for membership, with graphic designers, animators, marketing experts and software developers all setting up shop in the Orwell Place site.

This wave of new members has allowed Unicorn's founders to reinvest in the space, enhancing the décor and pushing ahead with plans to develop the site's expansive basement area. Rob has floated the idea of using the downstairs space as a film studio or a podcast booth, giving Unicorn members and hotdeskers even more opportunities to work creatively from the town centre space. This goes hand-in-hand with Unicorn's long-term vision, which is to foster a real creative community here in Suffolk.

"There's a bit of a brain drain going on in places like Suffolk, especially among young creatives," said Steve Butterworth. "By creating a space like this and a community for creative individuals, we can hopefully keep more talent here in Ipswich, rather than losing people to the big cities. Even for those who have moved away, this kind of initiative could well tempt people back."

Community is a big part of Unicorn Studios, whether that be the day-to-day interactions that freelancers get in the shared office space, or the thriving social calendar that the Unicorn team has put together. Along with regular pub quizzes and other social get-togethers, Unicorn will also be hosting a bimonthly 'Jelly' - an 
informal meetup for self-employed people - starting from January.

As the Unicorn community grows, so may opportunities for its members. One of the ideas that the Unicorn team has for the future is potentially pooling the talents of its members to deliver projects for bigger brands as a creative collective.

"We believe that Unicorn has the potential to evolve into something even greater in the future," said Rob. "We have a really exciting group of talents here, and we could make something even greater than the sum of our parts. We are very excited for the future here at Unicorn Studios."

For more information about Unicorn Studios and any of the membership options available to you, visit www.unicornipswich.co.uk. You can find Unicorn Studios at The Old Unicorn, Orwell Place, Ipswich, IP4 1BB.

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