Claire Carpenter is the Founder and Managing Director of The Melting Pot, Scotland’s Centre for Social Innovation, providing dynamic resources for social change makers. It is located in the heart of Edinburgh. Claire has a background in personal, professional and organisational development, having set-up and turned around several social enterprises/charities. She has pioneered of the concept of co-working in Scotland, especially when focused on the social change sector.
Age: 39, turning 40 this year!
Profession: Managing director
Languages: English, a tiny bit of Spanish
The Interview: In February, we went to Edinburgh to work for some days and we experienced The Melting Pot at first hand. We asked Claire if she would like to be part of our blog, and here you have the result of an edited chat with Claire through Skype on a Friday morning.
First of all, to give our readers some background, how would you define yourself?
Mmm… I would define myself as a human being…. I like outdoor-based activities – I do a lot of gardening and adventurous activities…. So I enjoy the summer, although it’s just three days here in Scotland… I miss the reality of summer having lived in Scotland for a long time.
The Melting Pot is a coworking space. When was the first time you heard this term?
I probably heard about it in 2006. I’ve been developing the idea of The Melting Pot between 2003-2005 but I’ve never heard of “coworking” before that time.
What are your reasons for creating The Melting Pot back in 2005? What is it that made you start up this attractive new project?
It started up as a necessity. The Melting Pot is center for social innovation and we offer a variety of services such as social business incubation programmes, meeting and events spaces, organization of events for Members, and coworking – it is just one of the things that we do.
The idea of a coworking space is to create dynamic, flexible resources for social change makers as there are so many of them that don’t want to work home alone or in the same office 365 days a year… Through my working life I’ve been developing charities and other organizations and I’ve been self-employed so I understand what others need regarding developing social innovation projects.
What makes the difference between yours and other co-working spaces? What is your added value?
The community is always the essential ingredient in a coworking space, because at the end of the day, it’s all about what the community is doing. There are other spaces around that are specialised in different industries, IT, architecture, etc. But our mission is to stimulate and support social innovation, so we help our coworkers whether they are big national charities or small start-ups.
As reported in the Spanish media The Economist, only in Barcelona 72 new spaces were created in 2011. Do you think we could start talking about a “bubble” of coworking?
72?? How can there be so many costumers? I can’t believe there are so many people looking for a coworking space… Surely, many of these new places are just offices where they rent some desks but they are not providing coworking services.
How is it in Scotland? Are there many other coworking spaces?
It’s nothing like that here! Edinburgh council has just opened a new space in Leith forcreative/IT entrepreneurs, andthere are other places where you can share offices, also some universities have incubation facilities… Is this coworking? Probably. Another coworking space that I know of, have failed… To tell you the truth, I dont have much time to look around the competition.
The large number of coworking spaces created throughout the entire Spanish territory has forced us to organize under a single legal entity called Asociación de Espacios de Coworking (Coworking Spaces Association). Do you have anything similar in the UK?
I’m not quite sure about it, but there must be one. I have not engaged with it, yet as our focus in on social change not co-working per se. I’ve been very busy trying to run a company and it’s just now that I’m starting to get my head up again… There is time for developing and then there is time to explore and learn more about what’s going on around you.
In our coworking space (MeetBCN), more than half of the coworkers are foreigners. Where are the coworkers at The Melting Pot from?
We have people from other countries as well, but most people are British. We have a membership selection process, we just don’t accept anybody. For instance, with your work, translation, would that fit into my membership criteria? Why would someone with a business like yours be permanent here? How would you fit into my mission for social innovation? How is the applicant addressing social innovation? We got grant money and huge amounts of volunteer contributions up so all our Members need to meet some sort of criteria because of this.
What do you reckon it is the relationship between social innovation and coworking?
Social innovators need coworking spaces in the same way novel entrepreneurs need coworking spaces. We work with individuals who work in health, environment, education, management, etc. Social innovation can be such a wide field, it’s the direction of travel that leads to social change – we don’t care what type of legal model they adopt.
Social change and Entrepreneurialism are what drives your work and life! Do you know any international projects that help achieving this goal?
There is an international project called “100 Mirrors” where women entrepreneurs from around Europe are interviewed and questioned about their projects and success factors. That might be useful to people as inspiration and advice. It’s free and online. Go and check it out!
As a professional, have you ever used a translation agency, translator or interpreter?
I haven’t used any translation languages, yet.
Can you tell us any linguistic anecdote regarding communication you have been through in your private or professional life?
Over the last month I have experienced six different anecdotal stories recounting a time over that past 3 years where I have apparently communicated something in a conversation that has been really poignant (intelligent, precise and spot-on) that made the people really think… I don’t even remember the exact conversations though! So communication is around us all the time whether we’re consciously aware of it or not.
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