Coffee shops full of young professionals perched at laptops and toting lattes have become symbolic of Hackney’s much reported ‘regeneration’ over recent years.
In fact, as many companies make redundancies in the face of ongoing economic downturn, a freelancing boom in the east end has turned cafes into the office of choice.
Surveys were conducted by specialists at freelancer.co.uk, the world’s largest online marketplace that connects people who wish to buy or sell services. Out of 2,500 businesses, 42 per cent said that they outsourced technical and web developers because of the pressure to keep up with innovations in the field. Almost 40 per cent of those asked were using freelancers for ‘back office’ roles like personal assistants and bookkeepers.
Nearly three quarters of businesses said that they planned to use freelancers even more in 2013.
Hackney resident Maisie Collin, 36, has been a freelance project manager, massage therapist and life coach since 2011 when she was made redundant from her job in youth services after 17 years. Having seen the increasing levels of freelancers in Hackney, she is launching The Hackney Collective, a non-profit initiative for freelancers in the borough this year.
Unlike many of the smaller collectives in the area, which focus on a single discipline, The Hackney Collective will include people across several trades and professions.
Collin said: “You can feel isolation if you’re a freelancer. You need to be organised, have branding, do administration and finances. That’s really hard on your own.
“But we can support each other in setting up an infrastructure if we pool our knowledge and offer support. The idea is that we see other freelancers as colleagues.”
The Hackney Collective will also welcome non-freelancers who are looking for employment, and want to identify skills to get back into work via freelancing.
Collin explained why it was essential to encourage those out of work to freelance: “It’s really important for people’s self-esteem that they have the chance to work out their talents. There are so many unemployed people at the moment.
“They’ve got skills up to their eyeballs that the community would really love, but they don’t know how to put themselves out there. So they end up working minimum wage in a bar instead. That’s typical around here.”
There will be internship initiatives for young people wanting to learn on the job, and skill swapping between established freelancers.
“If one person can do bookkeeping then they can teach someone else, who might be able to teach them how to design a logo, for example,” said Collin.
Hackney Council describes the borough’s knowledge and ‘hi tech’ economies as being “based on flexible, freelance, cross-sectoral exchange.”
The council also attribute the growth of the residential economy in Hackney to freelancers: “Along with the new growing information technology business base, Hackney has seen many new or upgraded groceries, cafes, coffee shops, restaurants and bars, generating a new energy of which the entrepreneurs are very proud.
“What lies behind this growth is a local ingenuity and a freelance culture that is willing to take risks, juggle multiple projects and is happy to lend their knowledge to whatever the creative task may be”.
Freelance artist James Carter, 28, from Haggerston, said that he thought the growing freelance community was going to make it easier in 2013. “There is no doubt that it’s hard to stand out in the freelance world, especially with so many of us.
“But Hackney has the advantage that we are all geographically close and so it is a community more than a competition. People come to Hackney to find freelancers, and as it becomes a more common lifestyle people have it in their mind to look for one rather than looking for a company. Gone are the days of the Yellow Pages.
“Everyone in east London is very linked in on social media, especially Twitter, which is a great place to generate clients and recommend each other. 2013 will be hard for everyone, but I think there are some good weapons at our fingertips.”
52 per cent of businesses surveyed said that outsourcing work has enabled them to grow in 2012.
In a national survey, still ongoing, almost a third of freelancers said they didn’t expect things to be harder in 2013.
In 2009 Professional Contractors Group, an organisation for consultants, contractors and freelance workers names November 21 as National Freelancing Day in the UK.
77 per cent said they found being a contractor or freelancer more satisfying than being an employee.
59 per cent of freelancers say they don’t have to use an overdraft facility to survive, compared to 89 per cent of small businesses who say they would go bust within three months if their overdraft was removed.