Bizarre events such as baby raves and knitting retreats show the potential of Manchester’s pay-per-minute ‘sitting room’ as it plans another site in MediaCity.

International chain Ziferblat, which first opened in Russia, claims to represent the ‘sharing economy of space’ and does not charge for drinks or food, only for time spent in the building.

Head of marketing Ben Davies has been at the forefront of making the Northern Quarter venue a popular choice for start-ups and would-be entrepreneurs in the tech-heavy district in its first 18 months.

“We don’t call it a café, because it’s not what we’re trying to be. We don’t want people turning up expecting table service!” he told BusinessCloud.

“Cafés and bars are often the places that people meet to work or collaborate, but they are not fit for purpose. Costa kicks you off its Wi-Fi after half an hour so paying customers can take your seat.

“A small content agency which spends a lot of time in London doesn’t need space five days a week. They just need a plug socket, Wi-Fi and coffee – and to use the space as and when they need it.

“Word of mouth is important to us. We find it’s the weirdness of the concept that gets people talking – they come for the novelty value then stay for the experience and community aspect.”

ZiferblatZiferblat
Ziferblat describes itself as the 'sharing economy of space'

The space has become home to a great variety of events, ranging from those hosted by tech big hitters to more imaginative offerings.

“We run hack days for the NHS and tech events,” Davies continued. “Google use us; so do Barclays, Santander, the BBC and several overseas businesses.

“We have hosted weddings, bar mitzvahs, a 50th birthday, yoga and martial arts.

“We have one lady who books us for baby raves: there are soft toys and lights and the mums and their kids can dance to their hearts’ content – the place is rammed for two hours!

“And another lady books all our rooms for an entire weekend three times a year to host a knitting retreat – people come from America to take part and there is a waiting list of 200 people.”

Ben DaviesBen Davies
Ben Davies

Ziferblat charges 6p per minute in the Northern Quarter and 8p per minute at its two Liverpool sites.

Its 17th branch will open in the Tomorrow building at MediaCity in March 2017, with plans to expand around the UK after that. But London is not on the radar.

“We want this to be ‘The Ziferblat that MediaCity built’ – we’re holding consultations with companies asking how we should build the walls, what types of facilities we should have, how they want the space decorated,” added Davies.

“We’d like to open in Leeds, Chester, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton… anywhere with a university and a cathedral!

“[But] try and find 6,000 square feet in London at a price that doesn’t make your eyes water… we keep on the lookout, but nothing has come up. To make it viable we’d have to double or triple the amount we charge – and it’d be counter-intuitive for what we’re trying to do.”

The Tomorrow building, which launched at the end of September, comprises eight floors of creative workspace and a 112-bed Premier Inn over a further four floors.