The Stable: a business community hub of creativity and inclusivity

Director of Operations at The Stable, Jemma Cole, tells us what led her back to Weston, the vision behind this thriving community hub and the foresightedness of their community initiatives.

Jemma Cole podcast cover

The Stable is a vibrant hub that has woven itself into the fabric of the community in Weston-super-Mare. A multifaceted space, it offers everything from co-working offices, to a board game cafe, hot desks, a pub, a pop-up food shop, artisan markets and more.

In the latest episode of the We are Super Weston podcast, Councillor Jemma Cole – the driving force behind the remarkable transformation of the building and ongoing community initiatives – tells us about her journey and how The Stable got to where it is today.

The Stable has also been instrumental in supporting young people with learning disabilities and others who may have been overlooked by traditional support systems.

Jemma, introduce yourself and your links to this place. How did you end up here? 

About five years ago, I was working at Mendip South Somerset and Sedgemore Council to deliver funding and business support to community interest companies and startups, working with the National Lottery to deliver massive funding campaigns. 

Hinkley Point came and asked if I would look after anybody they gave funding to – if they handed out money from any of their grant pots, I would go in and look at governance and how the organisations were set up, make sure they knew how to manage that amount of cash and come up with ideas for what to do with it. 

I was working part-time for Red Brick Building in Glastonbury, looking at developing their unused space, and although I was involved in lots of different communities, I didn’t have the base to build anything properly and I just started to really miss it.

The Stable building came up and I thought, do I want to go back to Weston? Then they offered me the job, and I’d made a decision earlier that year that I was going to say yes to everything that I was offered. It wasn’t really planned, it was kind of a series of things that rambled on and ended up with me being back here. I hid for the first 12 months I was here, I just needed to concentrate on getting this working, it wasn’t in a great place. When I first came on board, we had a fraction of the space that we’ve got now and it needed quite a lot of development work.

Initially half the board wanted it to be a tech hub, and the other half wanted it to be a creative hub, and it wasn’t going one way or the other. It was quite difficult trying to work out what it should be. Weirdly, we’ve now got the balance of both. 

The Stable, weston-super-mare
The Stable, Weston-super-Mare

What kinds of businesses are at The Stable now?

We’ve got companies that are tracking trees that are chopped down in rainforests, to see where they end up. We’ve got an organisation who, in the middle of COVID, were the first people to come up with the idea of a COVID passport, and sold that idea to different people. 

We’ve got robot technology in medical pharmaceuticals, circus skills, pole exercise classes, German groups, knitting groups, AI companies, different charities for dementia, counselling, art therapy, ghost writers, insurance brokers, HR, medical consultants…!

If you need something, come in and someone here will do it, or know someone who does. We’ve got 40 offices, but on top of that, 120 hot deskers that come in. 

Do you find that it works well for networking? 

Absolutely. There’s a lot of networking and working together. Some of the original guys have formed new companies together, expanded into different industries. There are tons of different crossover projects.

The Stable coworking space Weston super Mare
The Stable co-working space space

The Stable building is an incredible space, can you describe it?

It used to be a coach house for taxis in Victorian times. The top floors were top hat and cloak makers. Then it was a nightclub for a bit, then offices before we got our hands on it.

I’m actually quite tempted to get the front door painted like a TARDIS because it is so massive when you come through it. On the ground floor, you’ve got the cafe, a couple of large offices on the ground floor and a food shop. 

Behind that, there’s lots more smaller offices, a courtyard, two meeting room spaces, wave radio station, more tech companies and The Stable Games Room.

On the second floor, there’s lots more offices and co-working space. People can turn up for an hour, a day, a week or whatever. The loft – which is our biggest meeting room space – is for things like yoga and things that need an open-plan space. It’s got amazing windows, fairy lights and a vaulted ceiling.

Offices at The Stable, Weston-super-Mare
Offices at The Stable
The Stable Weston-super-Mare
The Stable co-working space

What about the artisan markets you host?

When we first came up with the idea for the markets, there weren’t really any markets taking place in Weston at all. What we’ve tried to do is deliver things that aren’t taking place, and enable things to happen, then when we don’t need to do them anymore, we move on to the next thing. 

Lots of people that attended our first market started creating other markets. Now every weekend, there’s at least one or two markets in Weston, so now, we’re only going to do them once every quarter. They’re going to be night markets, because we’d like to create something with a bit more atmosphere and a bit of a bit more of an experience. From November (2023), they’re going to have live music, cocktails, and drinks in the bar. We trialled them last year, and they were really successful and the footfall was much better. 

The whole point behind The Stable is to stimulate economic growth and a sense of community around us, then once we’ve done that, if other people want to get on and take it off us, then brilliant.

The Stable Weston-super-Mare
The Stable cafe area, Weston-super-Mare
The Stable co-working space

Tell us about The Food Shop at The Stable

When I worked in Glastonbury, every summer, we would run a project to feed kids that weren’t being fed and it was on the agenda to set up here. Then COVID came along and kids were out of school, and some weren’t getting anything to eat. Before the government started initiating the vouchers, or systems trying to get food out through the schools, we started doing just that. We delivered about 55,000 free school meals and had a lot of support from the YMCA, and suppliers delivering us food. 

It became something that we wanted to carry on with and we got the opportunity from Weston Town Council to explore the food clubs. The Food Shop has been open for a year and it’s been really successful. Initially, we thought we’d get 25 members in the initial six month pilot, and I think by the end of week three, we had over 300 members. We’re probably at about 200-odd members now. Not everybody uses it regularly – it was designed as a food waste project, but it’s very quickly become about food poverty. There’s no stigma to it at all. If you’re coming in, you’re saving food from going to landfill or from incineration. People from all walks of life use it, it’s £5 membership for six months, and then £5 for a basket every week. The basket has probably about £40 worth of produce in it and can be anything from fresh fruit and vegetables, to pasta to jars of Dolmio, to yoghurts, sometimes steaks… but they tend to go pretty quickly if they turn up. 

We’ve got a lovely volunteer, Cynthia, who manages The Food Shop. We always make sure that there are staple items in there. We have had to change things a little bit to cope and manage demand. We did quite a good project, which we’ll probably do again in the next few months, asking people to donate slow cookers. Quite often people buy them, and never use them, they get shoved in the cupboard. People can donate their old slow cookers to us, we get them PAT-tested and then give them to people to help with electricity costs. I expect we’ll do that again in November, in time for Christmas.

The Stable Weston-super-Mare
The Stable, Weston-super-Mare

How did The Games Room come about?

It got to the point where the waiting lists for office space were massive, so we thought we’d take  the back area of the pub that had been left for years – it was full of rubbish, and just completely needed refurbishing – and convert that into office. Then COVID happened and the guys that were running the pub didn’t make it through and the landlord asked if we wanted to take all of it. Simon had managed The Market House when he was 18, or 19. Around the same time, I’d been to a couple of board game cafes with some friends, and thought, that’s what Weston needs! We had a few Warhammer-type places, but nothing that was hitting that mainstream target audience.

We’ve got over 1000 board games in there now.  

The thing that’s different about it as well is, it’s not really a ‘drinkers’ area, because we are a family pub. There’s always families around and we’ve got a huge amount of non-alcoholic produce. 

We’ve got the D&D crowd who are slightly more serious about their gameplay, and then we’ve got others that come in and play Screwball Scramble. It all blends together. 

Quite a lot of people come in who say they don’t play games, but by the time they leave, Simon will have made them play a game and they’ll be sitting there for hours. Simon is a one-man creative atmosphere, the other bartenders are really, really lovely as well. 

The Stable games room Weston
The Stable Games Room Weston,
The Stable Games Room Weston
The Stable Games Room, Weston

Tell us about The Stable Foundations?

A long time back, Simon opened The Strawberry Line Cafe in Yatton, which was set up to work with adults with learning disabilities. Then he moved on to Weston train station to do the same. He had a cafe called Coal Shed at the station, and he did quite a lot of work with adults with learning disabilities. 

When we got the pub, we still wanted to be doing that. The Kickstart scheme started as a result of COVID, supporting 16 to 25 year olds who hadn’t had the employment opportunities that would have been there If COVID hadn’t happened.

Work experience had suffered quite dramatically, so we became a government gateway. We helped 175 young people over 18 months to find employment. When it came to an end, we had just gathered a group of young people who still weren’t really ready to be employed, but who we didn’t want to let go, and didn’t want to let down. Weston College was asking us to take people from The Bay (a residential training centre for students on the autism spectrum) and we had St Brandon’s asking us to take people.

Loads of organisations had realised what we were offering is proper enablement – mostly down to Simon, and the way he is with people. He would have a kid come in, who couldn’t speak or look up from the floor, and they’d be with us for six weeks, and they’d leave and their confidence, and what they were then able to do, was phenomenal. They’d gone from having to have their parents take them everywhere, to being able to get the bus in to do a shift, talk to people that were in the building, and go out and join society properly. 

We now offer opportunities to anybody – we try to look at people that fall through the gaps. Quite a lot of people, because of their age, weren’t eligible to go to The Bay or Weston College Or, because they didn’t have the right amount of funding, they couldn’t take part in different things.

A real annoyance for us was that there were a lot of organisations out there, who were getting people to use their funding for support, and then they were bringing them into us, the support worker was sitting in the corner for an hour while Simon was teaching them things, and they were being paid £90 an hour to sit there. We wanted to change that system, because why should they be paying for them to just sit and drink coffee?

Seven of the Kickstarters have just completed apprenticeships, and four of them had been written off – they didn’t have GCSEs, they were never going to complete an apprenticeship. 

Most of the staff you see around the building, do have some kind of learning or health and wellbeing need. We really want to give them the opportunities. It’s hard work at times, but it means a lot to us. It’s really, unbelievably important and underserved. 

One of the other things we found after COVID was that a lot of young people have been labelled with something by their college or their school. They weren’t diagnosed with anything, but they had decided that they probably had this thing, so they were sending them through the process. Actually, it turned out, they didn’t have anything, their confidence had just been knocked so badly. 

The Stable Weston-super-Mare
The Stable Cafe

What’s an interesting fact about Weston that you wish everyone knew?

If Weston’s sea was blue, everyone would think our promenade is amazing. It is amazing. What you can do down there – the walks, the difference between one end of the beach to Sand Bay, Uphill, St. Nicholas Church, the Priory, to the quarry when it’s back open again.

Weston's sandy beach
Weston seafront promenade

Where do you go out for a meal in Weston?

Japanese – Sakura or Ebisu or somewhere like that? Thailimeleaves, which is pretty great. 

What’s your favourite thing to do in Weston?

Worlebury Woods is a big one for us. I’ve got a nearly-nine year old, so he quite likes stomping around up there.

We like wrapping up and walking on the beach. This is my favourite time of the year. Simon’s is the summer but mine is autumn, getting the wind and the weather. 

Favourite event of the year?

This one stumped me a bit, but I think it’s the Sea Shanty Festival. I don’t think anything else brought the town together as much. A lot of the events take place on the seafront – the place is buzzing. It’s got to be one of the best, everything from the fundraising right down to the staging.

Favourite places to shop in Weston?

This one’s really tricky. I do love the artisan market because there’s loads of local crafters that are in one place, plus, I don’t have to go anywhere. I guess we’re a bit nerdy, so MT games Imaginarium, comic books – all the retro nostalgia-type stuff, vintage shops.

Worlebury Woods/Weston Woods
Worlebury Woods, Weston

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