In a world in which equity and inclusion are the latest buzz words circulating in corporate America, the call for intersectional office space may seem passé. Not so to Taneasha White and Brooke Taylor, the two founders of the Collab Spot, a local Black- and queer-owned co-working space planning a full launch this month.
“There’s a definite difference between being a place that is inclusive and a place that is specifically designed for and by people like you,” White says. “There are plenty of places that have Black Lives Matter signs in the window, but as a person of color there is a completely different feeling that you get when you walk into a space and almost everyone there looks like you.”
Beyond Richmond’s welcoming, more melanated community members, the duo also wants to ensure that queer and trans people feel safe working at their North Side office space.
“There is an importance to the Collab Spot being intersectional,” White adds. “Brooke and I are both queer folks and there is a safety concern our community faces, especially for Black trans women. You need to know there are people there who will defend you and stand up for you if needed.”
Part community center, part leadership development space, the Collab Spot represents a blending of both individual’s visions. They first leased the space in November of last year, spent several months renovating the building to create the right mix of private offices and communal space and went forward with a soft opening in February. For the last six months their operation has been available by appointment only but starting in September, folks are welcome to show up with no booking necessary.
Whereas other co-working spaces can feel exorbitantly expensive, Taylor and White are aiming for affordability. “We don’t expect folks to sign up for anything, and there’s no necessity to be affiliated with a particular cause,” White says. “Financial accessibility is one of the things that we care about. The co-working space and the offices are a part of our business, but the community hub is the heart of our work.”
The Collab Spot offers a variety of membership options on its website, but for walk-ins the rate is $35 for the day – much less than other spots around town. Those who help manage the space, organize programming or who donated to help get the place ready can all access a special price. The duo also created a sliding payment scale based on financial capacity to ensure no one gets turned away for an inability to pay.
“At no point has this been about income,” White explains. “The goal was never for this to be our full-time jobs. We knew from the beginning this would never be lucrative for us. Any income that we get from the space goes directly back into the building. When we have additional funding we want to pour that into programming and community events. The goal is just to be self-sustaining.”
Ahead of the full capacity launch in September, Taylor and White are working on getting shelving built in the reception area so they can sell locally-crafted wares from minority-owned businesses. The Collab Spot also features a recording studio, gender-neutral bathrooms, a full kitchen, a reading nook, four private offices, and a large coworking room with tables, chairs, and couches. In the evening, the duo hopes to use the facility as an event space as well.
Several organizations and businesses have already moved into some of the private offices and White and Taylor hope that expanding their services will allow more folks to make the Collab Spot their go-to place to be productive. “In the future, we hope to offer affordable child care whether in our space or in an adjacent space that partners with us, since that is such a large barrier to many people looking to join the workforce,” White says
Located in a former Afro-centric community school on Sledd Street, the Collab Spot’s founders could hardly be happier with their location.
“North Side is a good fit for us,” White says. “We wanted somewhere that’s accessible by bus and in a more Black-centered neighborhood. We’re really excited to be so close to Virginia Union University. We definitely hope to foster close relationships with them and their students this fall. We didn’t pick this area because it’s up and coming, that’s just a bonus.”
Regardless of whether students, activists or entrepreneurs fill the space come September, the Collab Spot’s two founders and co-directors of collaboration are just happy to be building out a shared space and a business model that affirms the identities of Virginia’s most marginalized residents.
“It’s great to have a building full of folks doing their individual work in the city,” says White. “We know that there are places in Richmond that cater to queer folks and some to Black folks, but we wanted to provide a safe space for people at those two identities’ intersections. We have all had jobs where management cared more about making money and customers than the people who work there. But for us, community is where our priority is.”