Conviviality Counts!

The very best community based enterprise centres are usually described as convivial – friendly, agreeable and welcoming. That is convivial to the people whom the centre has been set up to serve – who need to feel relaxed and at home in the space.

My favourite local example of this is perhaps the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Community Centre in Leeds. As you walk in you are faced with a (usually busy) community cafe – full of friendly local faces, from all generations, enjoying food, drink and conversation. The reception desk is a modest affair on your immediate right. This is a venue where the people that the centre serves are likely to feel at home, relaxed and welcomed. It has been designed that way.

This is in stark contrast to some enterprise centres that are certainly ‘impressive’ but are perhaps not always convivial. Automatic glass doors opening into impressive atriums followed by a walk to a large reception desk situated in front of a wall of frosted glass panels staffed by receptionists in business suits with blue tooth ear pieces and large monitors on their desk tops. Impressive – but not convivial. Not to many local people. As a friend of mine commented, ‘to some people the gap between the entrance and the reception desk might as well be a shark infested ocean…’

We know the importance of making enterprise clients feel relaxed and open so that they are comfortable to talk openly and honestly about their ideas – rather than feel that have to put on a show to ‘fit in’.   Ernesto Sirolli tells the story of a woman who visited him in a university business centre.   She was like a fish out of water, tongue tied, embarrassed and not at all at ease in her environment.  When he arranged to visit her in her kitchen he met a woman transformed – relaxed, in control, articulate and confident in her own home. The description she gave of her enterprise idea was articulate, insightful and honest.

When I am training enterprise coaches I will get them to practice a  new coaching skill in a relaxed and informal setting – a garden or patio for example. I will then ask them to use the same skills in a more formal business meeting room. The change in quality is palpable.  They feel the difference.

Context matters, architecture matters, power symbols matter.

So when you are deciding where to meet your next enterprise client don’t just choose the most impressive local enterprise centre. Instead help them to choose a setting that they find convivial and welcoming.  One that is likely to help you to do great work.

You might find that the ‘impressive enterprise centre’ is better kept for when you want them to practice being out of their comfort zone.


  1. Mike,
    Good points. But, it should be noted that the reference to the “impressive” centre should be balanced with the fact that it is not a community centre.
    Additionally, it is interesting — your perspective about friendly as it is one of the few buildings in Leeds without a required ‘buzzing in’, prove who you are entrance. Soon music will be playing in the lobby and the cafe will be up and running. It is hoped that this will add to a convivial feel.

    Kitchen tables are another agenda, not the agenda or purpose of the ‘impressive’ business centre. This centre aims to raise aspirations while simultaneously changing external folks’ perceptions and finally making loads of cash to re-invest into the neighbourhood; supporting the kitchen table work that is necessary to bridge the gap if we are to truly help the neighbourhood achieve its full potential.

  2. Thanks for the comments Todd. The absence of a buzzing in system is indeed to be applauded. Long may it last…. Music and the cafe will help to increase conviviality too.

    People are quite rightly being urged to use the catalyst centres as the places to meet with LEGI clients. While I have no problem with this, I do think that it could be quite a challenging environment for some pre-starters to enter. For some it could be just too far out of their comfort zone. We should take more into account when planning where to meet clients than simply having ‘at the nearest catalyst centre’ as a default position.

    Language is a difficult thing to use with precision. I understand that shine is not a ‘community centre’ – but it is owned/managed by a community interest company. It is a business and social hub which has the difficult task of engaging both local people and outside folk – changing the perceptions of both. Shine is all about networking and connecting people and hopefully many of those will be local.

    While ‘kitchen tables’ may not be the agenda of shine – they are the agenda of those working on pre-start support – and it will be those clients that ‘graduate’ from the kitchen tables that become tenants of the catalyst centres, and hopefully later on the managed workspace that shine offers. The more convivial the catalysts the more straightforward will be the process of graduation.

    Your point about raising loads of cash to re-invest is an interesting one. Am I right in thinking that in effect the CIC will raise a ‘levy’ on tenants and customers to fund this reinvestment?

    All power to your elbow.

  3. Don’t you just despair at the whole formality of how so many agencies present business support services ?

    Buzzing In.

    Monolithic Doors of gargantuant proportion.

    Reception desks that could adequately serve as a first stage stop on everest.

    Booted and suited busy people, who talk in acronyms.

    Official looking forms that might as well say ‘sign your life away’.

    Glossy brochures where the pictures & content scream ‘look, we’re trying to make this relevant to you !!!’

    Is this real and relevant to people who truly are at the pre start up or prepre start up stage ?

    Me thinks not.

    Do you know what I’d truly love to see ?

    How about an indoor market stall (or an outdoor one, I’m not choosey !), with a comfy chair or two, a decent pot of tea and someone to host it, who truly gets how a conversation cafe needs to work ? Someone who knows business but also more importantly genuinely gets and values people ? Where there are no agendas, no tick boxes, just a genuine interest in people and a focus on options …. now that is my idea of bliss !

    How much more likely are we to see footfall from the 46K in that kind of situation ?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the catalyst centres rock and they are going to be a great asset to the population of Leeds.

    But I think, like Mike, what I am seeing, is that although it’s an easier entry point than say the chamber … it’s still a giant leap for some.

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