Patch seeks to put empty high streets to good use

The design-led spaces will cater for working-near-home as well as community and cultural events, while looking to boost local infrastructure and economies.


Patch – a company aiming to transform buildings with “interesting social histories” into local centres for work, culture and community – has announced £3 million of investment raised and two new sites set to open this year.

Patch was founded in 2020 by Freddie Fforde and its backers now include PureGym founder Peter Roberts, JamJar Investments (led by the founders of Innocent Drinks), former Wagamama CEO Emma Woods, and the VCs behind Soho House Active Partners. Patch head of product and creative director Paloma Strelitz – previously co-founder and partner at multidisciplinary design collective Assemble – says that Patch’s vision is to create “high-quality local infrastructure” and facilitate work opportunities nationwide by investing in areas outside of central London.

Patch’s Chelmsford location

She explains that Patch has three interconnected goals:  increasing accessibility to co-working spaces closer to where people live, for less commuting and a better work-life balance; to “create new centres for local life and community on our high streets”; and “celebrating the people, businesses and organisations” who distinguish local areas.

According to Strelitz, these link to Patch’s broader aims to “widen access to jobs in the knowledge economy and create opportunities to access new skills”.

“Designed to amplify the building’s history”

While the disused buildings acquired by Patch are given a new purpose, the company also wanted to pay homage to their “interesting social histories” through design, says Strelitz. The first Patch space was formerly a Victorian brewery in the heart of Chelmsford and its redesign looked “to amplify the building’s history”.

Structural elements such as original brickwork, steel columns and timber ceilings are left exposed, complemented by “bespoke ply tables, colourful contemporary furniture and plenty of plants and natural light”, says Strelitz.

The historic Gray & Sons Brewery in Chelmsford. Photo credit: Philipp Ebeling

According to Strelitz, because public access is imperative to these spaces, people need to be able to use them in different ways. A key challenge for the team was designing the right balance of professional set-ups and dynamic social spaces. She says that they were also conscious of “the touchpoints which make a real difference to members’ experience of the workday”, such as the quality of desks, chairs and natural light in the space.

The ground floor at Chelmsford Patch combines a suite of public social spaces, including a cafe and event space called Patch Market and a public learning studio called Patch Academy. These spaces are designed to support local groups and organizations as well as hosting community events, says Strelitz, “from women in business networking groups and monthly socials for the creative industries, to BBC-led workshops for teenagers to encourage access to the music industry”.

Upstairs are different working areas, such as a communal lounge, a co-working studio and a study with dedicated desks and private offices.

Chelmsford’s Patch Academy space

“Design becomes a tool for supporting people”

“Covid has intensified pressures on UK high streets, which have long suffered from a lack of custom, first impacted by out-of-town shopping centres, then exacerbated by the sharp rise of e-commerce”, says Strelitz. She believes that this is “a critical moment to re-imagine and re-invigorate local high streets” and to champion inclusive growth.

According to Strelitz, design has the power to facilitate growth on a personal and community level. Patch is developing social and physical infrastructure for working and meeting new people, but also aims to make local areas more attractive to the people who live there. The desired result is increased engagement and footfall for local businesses, which could ultimately benefit that area’s whole economy and community, Strelitz suggests.

The overall aim of the design-led approach is to create spaces that can support and sustain their local economies and “catalyse positive change in neighbourhoods and communities”, says Strelitz.

Patch Chelmsford wayfinding and signage designed by Ali Hanson

“A positive partner in local ecosystems”

Following the £3 million of funds raised, Patch will be opening two new locations in Twickenham and High Wycombe.

Patch Twickenham is being launched in partnership with the BIG South London programme – a South London-wide drive to unlock knowledge-based economic growth in the area – and is also supported by the Richmond upon Thames council. Located at 42 York Street, Twickenham, the Art Deco space will include a 186 sqm public access space on the ground floor and house a locally run cafe, pop-up retail space and public library.

Patch Twickenham site sketches

The High Wycombe location is a historic former library building, which will hold a workspace and community hub that takes inspiration from the building’s 1930s features.

The hope is that Patch will become “a launchpad for local enterprise and centre for civic activity”, says Strelitz, giving support for local people working across a range of sectors and industries in the week, and providing a space for education and public events on the weekends.

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