A Year at Rabble Studio: Dan's story

As part of our 'A Year at Rabble Studio' series, Rabble Studio founder Dan Spain reflects on the past twelve months at his coworking space.

Dan balances his work as a freelance designer with running Rabble Studio. You can bet a quid that if you meet him, he'll be wearing black, he'll say 'wicked!' a lot and will probably rave about the latest craft beer he's tried.

Dan Spain

What were you doing before you took the plunge to open Rabble Studio last summer?

I’ve been a designer for about seven years, switching to being freelance in 2015. It took about three months to actually set Rabble up – building desks, painting walls and all that sort of prep. In the gaps and along the way, I’ve been doing odd shifts in bars and creating graphics, brands and websites for some cool people. 

How did the idea of Rabble Studio come about?

I ran a social event called Design Stuff Cardiff for a few years. It brought together loads of creative freelancers who all seemed to need a space to work from, or weren’t over the moon with their current office situation. I sympathised massively as I spent the first six months of my freelance life working from home and from various fluorescent lit rooms and coffee shops, which is enough to give anyone a perpetual headache.

Building on conversations and collaborations initiated at Design Stuff, and after trying out some dedicated work spaces, I knew that the environment I wanted to work in didn't exist in Cardiff. That was when the co-working adventure began!

Why did you want to create Rabble Studio? 

I believe that everyone needs a great place to work. When I think about the environment I’d like to work in, I see a space that creates a sort of work-home, a studio for people to work independently whilst being a part of a creative community. 

In this studio is the potential for great conversations, collaborative projects and knowledge exchange. We’d ask questions, listen and learn, have fun, make friends and do good work that matters. When you put creative people in the same room, amazing things can happen.

How did you imagine Rabble would turn out?

Rabble needed to be different from all of the other offices in Cardiff, striking a balance between being creative, eclectic, relaxed and professional. It needed to be light, welcoming and affordable while giving people a feeling of excitement and expectation when they walk through the door.

The space also needed to reflect its values, which is why we used Opendesk for the furniture as they promote open making, sharing and collaboration. It also felt necessary to have artwork from studio members and local independent designers and illustrators adorning the walls. We want to support the local creative community as much as we can!

Does the reality of it one year on match your original vision?

Although Rabble was somewhat geared towards those in the creative industries, I feel that definition has always been very loose in terms of its application. We try to curate the space as much as we can so that everyone who works here has complimentary skill sets, as well as being interesting people who take their side projects seriously. Conversation and collaboration will always happen naturally this way; we’ve already had a few really amazing projects come to life over the past year because of this.

It sounds clichéd, but it’s been such a great experience so far and has blown my expectations out of the water. Everyone that has experienced Rabble has been super friendly and supportive and we’ve had some amazing people at the top of their game come through our doors. We’ve even had members saying that joining the studio has saved their lives! What more could you ask for?!

What have been the highlights of the past year at Rabble Studio for you?

There are far too many highlights to list here! They include our pot luck lunches, ‘four dogs in a day’ day (where we had four woofers come to visit us with their hardworking owners) and ‘the raining indoors incident’ (when the building’s roof was removed for scheduled renovations on the rainiest day you could imagine).

Honestly, meeting every single person that has walked in the door has been my continuous highlight of the year. We’ve had such an eclectic bunch of characters work and visit here. They always keep me on my toes.

If I had to pick one highlight, though, making new friends and having loads of support as a freelancer is definitely the best thing about Rabble. Back in January, my work dried up and I spent a good week moping around the studio. After a few conversations, it turned out that most of us were experiencing the exact same thing, which immediately changed our mindsets and gave us all the little kick we needed to get back into action!

What benefits have you personally experienced from starting up Rabble?

Apart from being supported, making friends, having a great environment to work in and generally learning a lot, my personal design work has come along loads.

Because I’m surrounded by people that I aspire to be like, I push myself to be a better designer – not only with my personal work but as a business too. For some reason, clients seem to take you more seriously if you have a genuine workplace. Take note, bedroom office workers!

Rabble has given me a platform to develop ideas and create projects that might not have existed otherwise, and to help others do the same thing through a natural and collaborative support network.

What has surprised you the most about Rabble?

I recently looked back at some of the photos from when we first visited the space and I was really shocked by the amount of changes we’ve made and how far we have come in the past year.

We went from two rooms to four, built loads of new furniture and storage space, hosted loads of events and workshops and went from four members to 18. I’m totally gobsmacked, to be honest!

Also, just so you know, no matter where you work, someone will always cook smelly fish in the microwave! (You know who you are!)

What can people expect for year two? (Please say more dogs!)

Ideally I would love to get to a point where we reach capacity and have to open up a waiting list, but that’s more of the business side of things.

There are some cool ideas and projects in the pipeline at the moment but we have plans to open up a little online/studio based store in the next month or so that will sell all manner of creations from the local industry.

If there is a way we can look into collaborating with colleges and universities, that would also be cool. I’d also love to build on our workshops and put together a formalised programme to further support the creative community, hopefully becoming the main place to go for creative collaboration, socialising and learning.

We’ve been talking about a publication, a monthly social and a community market, but the biggest idea we have is to start offering the collective services of our members as a creative studio. We’ve got so many good people here who could really offer something different, I think.

So, in short, there is loads of exciting stuff to come… and more dogs, of course!