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Where to Work?

7 October 2013 | Nick Chen

I’m not a Feng Shui expert, nor have I read The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. However, I’ve spent enough time staring blankly at my laptop to learn the importance of a working environment. Maybe you’re a student, a writer, or simply want to get out of the office. Whatever it is, London is a creative hub – so why not find a quiet space in which to absorb the city’s percolating energy?

The capital’s also occupied by plenty of spaces with desks, power sockets and Wi-Fi access. Coffee chains like Starbucks attract numerous customers with more interest in using their internet connection, much in the way McDonald’s is becoming more synonymous for its public toilets than its chips.

Well, there are other places to take your laptop, each with their own distinct working atmosphere. You’re not lonely, you don’t have to talk to anyone, and you won’t fall asleep on the keyboard (both from the coffee and the awareness that people will stare at you). I could go on forever. Here’s ten recommendations.

1. British Museum members area
If it’s not enough that you’re in the British Museum, the members’ room boasts cosy chairs, internet access, and being a short stroll from the Rosetta Stone. In order to find the private area, you walk past the museum’s Egyptian Sculpture Gallery, which should be enough inspiration for a day’s work. There’s also a special cafe with a fancy menu that includes garden berries tea, whatever that is. However, these perks come at a cost (between £35 and £60 per year, depending on your age). Of course, that membership has other benefits – although it’s hard to look past the chance to find out what garden berries tea actually is.
Great Russell Street, WC1 3DG
Opening hours: Daily 10am-5:30pm; Fri 10am-8:30pm

2. British Library
The British Library is somewhat relevant, as it was part of the British Museum until moving to its own St Pancras location in 1997. The library’s 11 reading rooms are quieter and more studious than the museum’s members area, but they still offer the main requirements: desks, Wi-Fi, power sockets and somewhere to concentrate. It’s so popular, occasionally people will sit on the floor when it’s too crowded. Again, you can take an educational break by checking out an exhibition (manuscripts on display include the Magna Carta, Canterbury Tales and Beowulf). You have to register beforehand, and don’t forget to bring ID.
96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB
Opening hours: Mon 10am-8pm; Tue-Thu 9:30am-8pm; Fri-Sat 9:30am-5pm; Sun closed

3. Quaker Centre Cafe
Just down the road from the British Library is the Quaker Centre Cafe – a smaller, cosier venue which specialises in vegetarian and vegan food. The cafe prides itself on more than just Wi-Fi, as its menu offers a Fairtrade and organic selection without outside caterers. It’s also part of a building that holds the administrative office for British Quakers, which makes it far more interesting than your local Starbucks.
Friends House, 173-177 Euston Road, NW1 2BJ
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 8am-8pm; Sat 8:30am-3:30pm

4. Yumchaa
Yumchaa, while also known as a creative hub, is more focused on its tea. (The cafe’s slogan is “Tea is at the heart of what we do”.) The newest branch is in Tottenham Street, with three others not far away – two in Camden, one in Soho. I thought the name was an ancient mantra or a spiritual term, but it really is a reference to chaa being “yum”. So, yes, this really is a place for tea drinkers. Subsequently, there aren’t as many power sockets as in other cafes, which is the sacrifice you make for a hipper environment and exotic tea.
9-11 Tottenham Street, W1T 2AQ
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 8am-8pm; Sat-Sun 11am-6pm

5. BFI Reuben Library
The BFI building has a library and reading rooms, all of which are suitable for quiet studying. The library’s tables mean you might be sat opposite a stranger, but that’s okay – they’re probably equally as self-conscious as you about being caught checking Facebook. The building also has an extensive video archive section if you need to take a break or find inspiration – it’s a bit like an educational YouTube.
BFI Southbank, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XT
Opening hours: Tue-Sat 10:30-7pm; Sun-Mon Closed

6. Wellcome Collection reading rooms
The Wellcome Collection is an illustrious museum with a library, cafe and range of exhibitions specialising in medicine and history. The library’s reading rooms have quiet study areas, while the cafe also provides Wi-Fi access, in case you want to change scenery without heading outside. The working space is being redeveloped for 2014, with an announcement saying the reading rooms will provide “events and displays of treasures from the collection, combined with state-of-the-art technology exploiting the Library's ambitious digitisation programme.” So, not just any library.
Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE
Opening hours: Tue-Wed 10am-6pm; Thu 10am-8pm; Fri 10am-6pm; Sat 10am-4pm Sun-Mon Closed

7. Vintage Bean Cafe
This Brick Lane establishment launched last year and already has a reputation for its interest in art, not just coffee. The venue hosts exhibitions and music events, leaving a creative vibe present during the day. As expected, there are Wi-Fi and power sockets, but also an alcohol licence – perhaps a nearby reward for a hard day’s work. After all, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway rarely wrote without a drink, and it creates an excuse for missed deadlines. (We advise sticking to coffee.)
8 Cheshire Street, Bethnal Green, E2 6EH
Opening hours: Mon-Wed 7am-7pm; Thu-Fri 7am-11pm; Sat 9am-11pm; Sun 7am-7pm

8. Poetry Cafe
For a venue more directly aimed at writers, The Poetry Cafe is particularly inspirational. The cafe, run by The Poetry Society, has two floors – one that serves vegetarian dishes and hot drinks, and a downstairs area filled with poetry books. Instead of a laptop, you can bring a pen and notepad (although it does have Wi-Fi) and work without the distraction of the internet.  The cafe also holds several events, with readings and open mics, and even poetry surgeries where an expert provides one-to-one feedback. If you plan your scheduling diligently, you could write something in the afternoon and perform it in front of an audience that same evening. You don’t even need to like poetry – it’s also one of the few quiet study areas in Covent Garden.
22 Betterton Street, WC2H 9BX
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 12noon-11pm; Saturday 7pm-11pm

9. IdeasTap Creative Space
IdeasTap, a London-based arts network, runs Creative Space – a scheme for freelancers to apply for office space. There is a small charge and an interview process, but successful candidates get to share an office with film-makers, graphic designers, writers and other potential contacts. Plus, you get your own desk, printer access and other traditional facilities. Places regularly fill up, so it’s up to you to check when a place becomes available. They even once offered free desk space in exchange for contributing articles. It’s likely that surrounding yourself with similarly motivated people will instil discipline, while you soak in creativity through osmosis. That, or it’s a way to network while slyly scrolling through your Twitter feed.
54 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3UD

10. #guardiancoffee
The Guardian Cafe (does anyone actually call it #guardiancoffee?) was unveiled a few months ago as a reporters’ hub – infographics paint the walls, while tables are adorned by touch screen tablets. The crisp layout is designed for solo laptop work, with comfortable seating and fast internet. It may be a gimmick that won’t change journalism, but it’s a weird twist on tradition – and the coffee is real. Until the London Calling Cafe is launched, this will have to do.
Unit 1-3, Boxpark, 2-10, Bethnal Green Road, E1 6GY
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 8am-5pm; Sat-Sun 10am-5pm

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