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Women gather at The Block — new St. John’s coworking space cultivates community, collaboration

The Block members Rebecca Clarke and Mandy Woodland with owner and founder Melanie Crocker (right).
The Block members Rebecca Clarke and Mandy Woodland with owner and founder Melanie Crocker (right). - Juanita Mercer

Welcome to The Block – a work and community space designed specifically for women.

Launched in mid-November, women sign up with a $100 monthly fee which gets them access to the coworking space, WIFI, printing, beverages and snacks, a lending library, members-only events, and a private space to take calls or meet clients.

But the best feature, said member Mandy Woodland, is the people.

“It’s a community,” said the former lawyer and co-founder of several businesses, including consulting agency Jellyfish.

“For women, who are used to being – for most of us as entrepreneurs – in a male-dominated space … this is a very different space in terms of openness, and conversation and environment. While I’ve never had negative experiences with a co-ed space, and will continue to work in a co-ed space, this is just different,” she said.

The Block was founded by Melanie Crocker and is located in the same building as her business, RubyRose Beauty Bar, on Water Street West.

Shortly after Crocker opened the beauty bar in 2015, she learned about a similar coworking concept for women in New York City called The Wing. She immediately wanted to start a similar initiative in St. John’s.

“There was nothing like that here,” she said excitedly, as she sat with two members at a wooden table in the centre of the brightly lit space Saturday afternoon.

“I’m a member of NLOWE (Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs) and I know countless female entrepreneurs in this town, and there’s nowhere for us to congregate.”

She said her mantra was, “Build it and they will come.”

While the idea was developed for female entrepreneurs, Crocker said any woman who works remotely or from home could use the collaborative space.

She recalled when she used to work from home in a previous career, and would sometimes take her laptop to a coffee shop just to get out of the house.

“But you can’t really lean over to the other person at the table next to you and start talking,” she laughed.

“It was fine, but what I would have given to have somewhere to go where I could just talk to other women, and talk about what I did, and ask questions.”

Member Rebecca Clarke is a senior program adviser with the federal government who works remotely. She recently moved back to St. John’s after working across Canada and overseas.

“I’m just hoping to meet new people in the professional world and start building up a network again,” she said of why she became a member at The Block. “Just kind of getting out there and getting to know what’s going on in the city again.”

“For me, it’s almost the flip side,” added Woodland. “I’ve been back for 12 years now, so I have a good professional network here, but it’s pretty much all men. I went to my Christmas thing yesterday afternoon and there were about 10 men and me. It’s like, ‘Where are the women at this table?’” she laughed.

“And that’s what it’s like most days, so for me it’s a way to get out. I work from home, I have two offices at the university, and it’s nice to have another space.”

Woodland said the coworking space helps members see what’s happening outside their own industry as well.

“There’s other people doing these things that maybe I don’t know about, and maybe there’s opportunities for partnership and collaboration.”

Crocker said people are also communicating more and more in a digital space now, so it’s nice to have a physical location to connect with other women.

That benefit was highlighted at The Block’s open house last week.

“It was really interesting to see women meet each other and go, ‘Oh, that’s you! I’ve seen you on social media and have been dying to meet you!’”

Crocker said the space was “absolutely not” created with any sort of anti-male sentiment in mind.

“I’ve worked with lots of men and I consider some of my best mentors to have been men, but it was just creating a space where women could come in with some of the same challenges and discuss them freely.”

Crocker hopes it will become a place to mentor future generations. While The Block is still in its infancy, she’s brainstorming a mentoring program for high school girls that could include workshops on presentation or interview skills, for example.

“What better group to teach that sort of stuff than a group of entrepreneurs who are in the trenches every day – pitching ideas, going on interviews, and doing presentations,” she said.

Women interested in trying the space can avail of their first visit for free, and can find it on Facebook by searching The Block NL.

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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