The pop-up, workshop, workspace – cum café bar.

I have this niggling suspicion that I’m no longer ‘down with the kids’. Of course the litmus test for that is probably anyone who still says ‘down with the kids’, despite the phrase being consigned to the scrapheap of coolness some gazillion iPhone models back. The workshop, workspace, cum café thing. When did this happen? I mean as a business model? Because it seems all the rage right now and I think I like it. Who needs a traditional office space when you can work surrounded by the raw beauty of over-fed hipsters? He said, removing his tongue from his cheek. Nonetheless, I took a wander down to Look Mum No Hands to find out how this cafe has become more than just a cafe.

I spend a good few hours a day (generally on my work from home day) trying to find new and inspiring places to work in my neighbourhood of East Dulwich. But it usually ends with me complaining about the spectacular lack of WiFi facilities. It’s 2014 people. Surely yummy mummys have to connect once in a while too, don’t they? Even if only to check the opening times of JoJo Maman Bebe.

But if a complete lack of wifi is my first pet peeve, then the one sure to have me boiling over with rage, are the downright fibbers out there.

It’s one thing to miss the golden retail opportunities that offering WiFi is now proven to bring. It’s another thing offering WiFi so woefully inadequate that it simply can’t do the job. I’m not actually sure which is worse. But I do know it should have us all turning to our local ombudsman or citizen advice bureau to see if there’s some trading standards clause that’s being violated. I’m absolutely convinced free working WiFi should be enshrined in our statutory rights or something?

Back to the workshop, workspace, café ting, and this time it’s ‘Look Mum No Hands’, which is actually its name. You can find it on Old Street in the east end of London. Stunning space, hipster central, does what it says on the tin – which for starters….well they’re open when you go to work AND when you come back, which might appear an ever so simple detail, but is certainly not to be taken for granted. I’m surprised more independent coffee shops in cities and towns haven’t quite cottoned on to this. If you can possibly staff it, why not remain open while footfall is at its greatest?

LMNH have a small workshop upstairs and a larger fully functioning ‘uber’ workshop downstairs. It’s a space which according to their website, Sam, Nik, Alexis and Steve look after ‘mechanically’. In this case, they mean that literally since at LMNH you can get your bike fixed while sipping on a signature coffee (the beans they roast on-site too). There’s a café and plenty of table space for laptops and work books. They even offer basic bicycle maintenance courses every month with the ‘awesome Digger!’ who I assume is the seminar leader’s name.

Photography by Ben Rowe

Image courtesy of B3Designers

Photography Ben Rowe

So is there anything LMNH can’t do? Well unfortunately yes. Provide adequate wifi, well at least not while I was there….

And like often in retail where nothing is quite as FREE as it appears to be, I only found that out after spending £7.50 on a jacket potato, chilli, sour cream and cheese, another £2.40 on a flat white – dragged my books and paper work out, connected my laptop to the power grid, sunk back into a blissful stupor and marveled at the fact that yes, some places in the western world do work. That then I discover that for neither love nor money can I connect to their wifi. And when I finally can, it’s so slow that I can almost hear the Chariots of Fire theme tune humming during the agonising wait.

As a concept, I like the work-space scenario and it certainly seems to be a fashionable pop-up this season. As for the more permanent LMNH  – all in all, nice place, très cool place even, but can you actually work there? I mean like properly work there, and not just pretend.

Of course you can, just make sure you bring your own mifi unit.
49 Old Street, London EC1V 9HX



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