There’s a sitting room in the city centre everyone is welcome to step into. And everything inside is free. Except the time you spend. Sound surreal?
Welcome to Ziferblat, the pay-per-minute communal and co-working space which started out in Russia back in 2011 which has since seen increasing success across the UK, especially right here in Manchester. And it’s getting bigger.
The quirky name comes from Zifferblatt, the German for clock face, because this is a place where time counts.
For just eight pence per minute, you can use the space however you like. Help yourself to unlimited soft and hot drinks, sample the snacks, play boardgames, read newspapers, use the WiFi, even play the piano.
It’s like a home away from home, but with more tea, better cakes and no clutter. And there are bookable meeting rooms, too.
The first local branch opened in January 2015 on Edge Street in the Northern Quarter. Its first week was the busiest of any Ziferblat in the world, with 417 guests coming through the door in just one day – even busier than the first UK site in London.
There have been 300,000 guest visits to date at Edge Street, with over 50 jobs created and more than a dozen regional and national awards won.
And just like its enormous tea selection – 44 options and counting – the Manchester Ziferblat has just kept on growing. People keep coming back to use the characterful space (all 3000 square feet of it) on the first floor of an unassuming office block.
Now the Ziferblat phenomenon is getting even bigger in Manchester. The MediaCity branch celebrated its first birthday last month, and a new branch is set to open next year in St Peter’s Square in a former townhouse, making Manchester the city with more Ziferblats than anywhere else in the world.
So what’s the secret of their success?
Perhaps it’s the friendliness. Forget the formalities of waiters and waitresses. You’ll be greeted by a homely host like Mike at the MediaCity branch.
“Whilst in many coffee shops and cafes there is always an element of time pressure on customers to drink up and move on, here people can work or relax in a nice environment where ‘take your time’ and ‘help yourself’ is actively promoted,” he said.
“This encourages people to feel comfortable in a friendly and homely space, all without damaging their wallet.
“Plus from a personal perspective,” he added, “being able to bring my puppy Freddie to work has been brilliant and really helps to give that extra bit of personality to the place. He’s almost reached celebrity status.”
It’s not just pooches that are popular. Mike’s baking is, too. It’s become so popular he’s been asked to judge UTC MediaCityUK school’s bake-off competition, making him Ziferblat’s answer to Mary Berry.
“I think its popularity here has something to do with the Mancunian attitude,” says Ziferblat’s head of marketing, Ben Davies. “People here seem to warm to things, to support things that are authentic.
“There’s no silver bullet and always room for improvement, but where Ziferblat connects with people is that it is a flexible space for multiple different individuals and groups.”
In the room at any one time you will find remote workers, families, friends meeting for a chat.
Christine, now in her retirement, comes to Ziferblat every week to play the piano and was keen to share her appreciation for it.
“It’s the social atmosphere. I was looking for a meet-up venue and noticed that there was a board games meet-up. It’s a wonderful place to meet friendly people. You always get a big smile when you come in. It’s very welcoming.
“I’ve been coming for three years and it’s become a big part of my life. I’m free to play the piano and it doesn’t matter if people listen or not. I can say what I like. The staff are so friendly, it has a wonderful family atmosphere. It’s so welcoming, not just a cafe. The staff go out of their way for you like family, you feel like you’re known when you walk in.”
Changing working patterns area also a likely factor, with some predictions going so far as to estimate that by 2020, 50% of the UK workforce will be working remotely.
“Ziferblat is the middle ground between co-working space and home office that is larger than people think,” says Ben Davies. “The set-up means that people don’t have to commit with monthly memberships – they are simply paying per minute.
“After all, it’s crucial to recognise that work paradigms are shifting. It seems bizarre to ignore that we are no longer a ‘factory economy’ and ‘factory time’ doesn’t always apply – 9-5 working is just not a reality for a number of people. Instead it is the case that a lot of people work flexibly, with portable technology”.
Mark and Simon, web designers at Bamboo, are also regular users.
“There are three main reasons for choosing Ziferblat over other co-working venues. The first one is the simplicity of using the space. Ziferblat is the only co-working space in Manchester that allows guests to just walk in and use the space. There is no signing up, no joining fee and no booking in advance.
“Secondly, Ziferblat is very reasonably priced. For us the Clockwork package made the most sense, which is £149 for a month’s unlimited use – and again there is no signing up or contract, just pay month by month as and when you need it.
“Finally is the feel and atmosphere of the place itself. Ziferblat is a refreshing alternative to the rows of identical desks and swivel chairs that you seem to get everywhere else.”
Sara is a freelance copywriter who uses Ziferblat on a regular basis.
“When I first walked through the doors the space felt really calm, which I loved. I also liked the shared kitchen concept – to me any spaces that encourage natural socialising in a big city is always a win. When I turned freelance, I worked out of cafes and from my own apartment for months but quickly felt isolated. I then stumbled across Freelance Folk, who meet regularly at Ziferblat. I now go regularly and have met a professional support network, creative community and most importantly new friends.”
Katy Carlisle is the organiser of the much-loved Freelance Folk meet up, operating regularly in Ziferblat and is gaining new members all the time.
“What I like about Ziferblat is that it takes the pressure off you having something to eat and drink; you can grab a coffee when you want one – and of course choose from any of their other drink or food options.
“There’s also plenty of space to work and meet as a group. In addition to the co-working sessions, I often have client meetings there too. It’s hard to find space in most of the coffee shops around Manchester if you want to have a group of 10-15 freelancers all working together.
“I really like using their meeting rooms too. My brand is quite fun and personal and many event spaces feel too corporate or bland. People who come along to my Squarespace training workshops love how original and different the venue is!”
23 Edge St, Manchester M4 1HW
Ziferblat MediaCityUK – Salford M50 2AB