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Making room

It was one of those niggly little issues right from the start. How do we incorporate privacy into Comrie Workspace? The main office area has a homely, bright and airy feel that we didn’t want to mess with by building walls, yet our users and potential users have talked about the need for somewhere private for meetings, confidential phone calls or teleconferencing.

We decided to get things up and running first and allow the answer to find its way through – which, I’m delighted to say, it did!! As is so often the case in such situations, it was staring us in the face the whole time.

Linking our hut to the Wild Wood Bros next door is a corridor, half of which is now defunct, as the door into the neighbouring hut has been sealed off. During the renovation work and in the initial weeks of operations it had become something of a general repository for tools, materials and surplus office furniture. One afternoon in October, as I stood staring at this appendix of space, wondering where to start with the tidying operation, it came to me – private meeting room!!

The dead space was turning into an unsightly dumping ground

Next to the main door, separate from the main office area and with a front-facing window, the “appendix” certainly had the potential. A single partition wall and door is all it would take to convert it into a room – right?


If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see that the floor of the former corridor slopes downwards towards the blocked-off doorway. The idea of a meeting room on a slant felt more like a sketch from the Two Ronnies than a feasible business proposition. Nevertheless, I stood staring at that space on that October afternoon knowing exactly what I had to do, and uttered the following cry: “Neil!!!”

He stood next to me, quietly eyeballing the space, hands on hips and nodding gently while he sized up the task. There was no sucking in of air through his teeth, which I took as a good sign. And that was pretty much the end of my input.

Neil set to work over ensuing evenings and weekends to measure up, source materials and put it all together: first constructing a new, level floor, then building the partition wall and doorway and finally finishing it all off with skirting and facings. Colin and Ally from Renwick McLean Electrical installed lighting and plenty of power outlets. I did my usual – swooping in when all the hard work was done to slap a few coats of paint on the woodwork.

I then went on a shopping trip to Remake to source a suitably sized meeting table and floor lamp. The carpet came courtesy of Jade in Crieff. And there you have it – a corridor to nowhere transformed into a private meeting room with ample space for three – or even four if you’re keen. I’m delighted to report that the new meeting room, generously referred to at the Workspace as “the conference suite” has been up and running since late November and has already been put to good use. Our first taker was a business consultant seeking a facility for conducting lengthy teleconferences with international clients. Suffering from patchy connectivity in his home office, our meeting room and high-speed internet offered the perfect solution. He’s been back twice since and is looking forward to further visits in future. Our regulars are entitled to use the meeting room free-of-charge as and when required (subject to availability).

For people who work from home, the new room is also an ideal place to meet with clients, suppliers or colleagues. Users have full access to our refreshment facilities (including Mary’s home baking) as well as inkjet printing.

See our Pricing page for incredibly affordable charges to hire the room by the hour or day or contact us if you’d like to come in for a look.

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Vicky brings dance to Comrie Workspace

Vicky Wilson (35) was the first person to join me at Comrie Workspace as a regular user with a dedicated desk – the first of a growing and fascinatingly diverse group of people. Let me tell you a bit about Vicky.

Originally from Jedburgh in The Borders, Vicky is a freelance arts producer. She’s been freelance for six years and worked from her home in Dundee before moving to Comrie three years ago.

Currently working mainly with Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT) based at Dundee Rep, Vicky is also passionate about dance theatre created and performed by disabled artists. She was first introduced to disabled dance by Caroline Bowditch, who was Dance Agent for Change at SDT from 2008 to 2012.

One of Vicky’s favourite pieces of dance theatre is a tribute by Caroline Bowditch to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, called “Falling in Love with Frida”

“Disabled dance has become something of a niche for me. I think it’s important to have those bodies in dance because their physicality is so completely different,” says Vicky, adding: “Ballet dancers, for instance are perfect and their technique is incredible, but I don’t find it as engaging to watch because they all look the same and they all do things in exactly the same way. I find people with different bodies far more interesting. They bring different qualities.”

Since going freelance, Vicky has worked extensively in disabled dance, with one of her most prominent clients being the UK’s leading disabled dancer, Glasgow-based Claire Cunningham, who is currently touring with her latest production Thank You Very Much.

Claire Cunningham’s latest project “Thank You Very Much” will continue touring in the UK and worldwide through 2020 – 2021.

In her role as a freelance producer for SDT, Vicky works closely with the company’s Artistic Director Joan Clevillé, a renowned Catalan choreographer from Barcelona (and a man, by the way, in case the name throws you). A new work by Clevillé for SDT and produced by Vicky is a modern take on Greek tragedy Antigone that will be touring the countryside as part of the Rural Touring Dance Initiative, which brings top-class dance to village halls and tiny venues across the country.

Is Comrie’s White Church Community Centre on that list? Not yet, it would seem. But given the popularity of music and theatre at the Comrie venue, particularly in recent years, it would be a natural progression for the village to play host to professional dance theatre.

Due to premiere at Perth Theatre on Valentine’s Day next year, Antigone, Interrupted is performed in the round by one single artist, French dancer Solène Weinachter. “She tells the story through movement and through voice and sound,” explains Vicky. “Just made up of the sound she can make with her voice and her body. She’s just the most incredible performer.”

Another piece currently on tour is called Looping, which involves everyone – dancers and audience – on the stage. “It’s part ceilidh, part Brazilian street party,” explains Vicky. “It’s completely different, a mix of performance and partying with a political edge. It lends itself well to rural venues, but we’re also hoping to take it to a hug international dance festival in the middle east next year.”

International touring is an important part of promoting Scottish Dance Theatre to audiences around the world and brings an added dimension to Vicky’s work. “My first job when I came back to SDT [as a freelancer] was a one-month tour of South America,” she says. “That threw me in at the deep end. It involved a lot of red tape and visa work. And because we have dancers from all over the world, it was quite difficult to piece together. I spent hours on Google Translate!” One of the works on that tour was TuTuMucky by Botis Seva.

So, what does the job of producing a piece of dance theatre actually involve? “Mostly sitting in front of a computer,” laughs Vicky. She goes on to explain the cycle of looking for touring venues and supporting the promotional and educational work that goes on while on tour. Her job is largely one of planning, organisation, coordination and promotion – all the practical aspects of bringing a show to the public not associated with the creative process of the show itself.

Vicky feels Scottish Dance Theatre is extremely fortunate to have such high-calibre dancers and choreographers coming to Dundee, especially because the Tay’s easternmost city is not exactly what she would call “the most showbiz city for professional dancers”. That good fortune is the result of a reputation built up over the company’s 35-year history and a substantial improvement in its profile within Europe in particular over recent years.

Nevertheless, despite the popularity of dance formats such as “Strictly” and dance talent show “So you think you can dance”, Vicky feels there is still a long way to go to develop dance audiences in Scotland and the UK in general. Dance theatre and particularly the term “contemporary dance” can be off-putting for mainstream audiences. “But what I love about Joan’s attitude is that in some way or other it’s all storytelling,” says Vicky. “Even in the most conceptual pieces, the choreographer is still trying to tell some sort of story. One of the barriers is that people think they won’t understand it, but actually, like most art, it’s subjective, and can mean different things to different people.”

Arts production is the kind of work that involves keeping many plates spinning and keeping multiple groups happy, which can make the job stressful at times. “If I was ‘having a moment’ when I was working in the office full-time, I could go up to the studio and watch the dancers. It refocuses you and reminds you: ‘this is why I do it’, which is not easy for me to do now.”

Thankfully, for those ‘moments’ Comrie Workspace offers the services of resident destress dog, Henry. Although his dancing skills are minimal, a few minutes spent petting him and looking into his adoring spaniel eyes are guaranteed to help reboot the system when you’re having ‘one of those days’.

Vicky and Henry quickly formed a strong bond

So, how does someone become a producer of dance theatre? They study the dramatic arts and have always been interested in theatre production – maybe. They have childhood dreams of being a professional dancer until a tragic injury scuppers their perfect jeté, so they turn to production instead – it happens.

But no, Vicky’s path to dance theatre production began with a degree in Forensic Psychobiology at Dundee University. Yes, you read that correctly (and I even spelt it correctly) – Forensic Psychobiology.

“I would have enjoyed the criminal investigation side of it, the forensic analysis and so on, but there were a limited number of jobs available in the field,” she explains. “I fell into working in theatre because I wasn’t going to go down that path until I had done some travelling.”

So, Vicky took a job in the box office at Dundee Rep in order to finance a trip to Nepal to go trekking in the Himalayas, followed by spells in Sri Lanka and Thailand. On her return, it was a no-brainer to go back to Dundee Rep to replenish her bank account while considering her options.

“The marketing department was looking for help. It began with a few hours a week, and built up gradually. I became a part-time marketing assistant with Scottish Dance Theatre, which is based at Dundee Rep, and that ultimately led to a fulltime position as Marketing Manager.”

Although she began her freelance work on the marketing side of dance theatre with a producer who had left SDT around the same time, she soon found herself assisting in production and gradually built up her skills on the job. Joan Clevillé became another of her freelance clients, so when he was appointed Artistic Director at SDT a year ago, she found herself back at SDT – albeit this time as a freelance producer.

The policy of using freelancers is one that suits Vicky well and is not unusual across many sectors. For the client, it reduces office overheads and fixed staffing costs, and provides greater flexibility; while for the individual, it loosens the restrictions of being tied to one organisation and offers a greater level of responsiveness and self-determination in their professional life.

Many still see freelancing as somehow less preferred relative to the option of permanent employment, and as a way for employers to “cop out” of workforce commitments. However, if asked, most freelancers would beg to differ. By embracing the freelance business model as a long-term career-development choice, many individuals flourish in the freedom of being their own boss.

Coworking facilities like Comrie Workspace exist to support that business model by addressing one of the oft-cited downsides of freelancing from home – isolation.

Vicky again: “I don’t think I realised how isolating [freelancing] was until I started going back to do one day a week in Dundee. I noticed how much more I enjoyed being back in the office with people. So, I had been thinking about coworking, then you opened this place – so it was perfect.”

We agree wholeheartedly – welcome to Comrie Workspace, Vicky!

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Open for business – the first month

As the produce started to ripen in the allotments opposite, Comrie Workspace entered the final phase of its refurbishment and began to open its doors to users. With the final touches underway and a steady stream of tradespeople to keep us company, we decided to invite users to try out the Workspace for free during the month of August – and within days we had the first tentative enquiries and visitors through the turquoise and yellow doors.

Vicky, who is a freelance arts producer working in the dance sector quickly signed up as a regular, taking a long-term space. Scott and Julie from Capture Scotland, a new photography tour company, began using the space for one-to-one strategy meetings. Others who took advantage of the free-trial period included an IT consultant, a forestry consultant, a web writer and a graphic designer. Local community group Comrie Drama also took advantage of the Workspace’s evening and weekend rates for meetings.

And we’re delighted to say that almost everybody who came along for a free trial has been back for more since we opened our doors fully at the beginning of September and started charging them!!

Visitors who come to explore the heritage of Cultybraggan POW camp (Camp 21) also frequently pop their heads round the door, curious to find out what goes on in here now. And we welcome that, because we feel it’s important to demonstrate that Cultybraggan is not purely a place with a fascinating past, it is also one that lives and breathes in the present day and holds enormous potential for a vibrant future.

When we set up Comrie Workspace, the primary intention was to create a shared office environment for freelancers and distance workers seeking an alternative to the home office. We also saw potential for it as an evening and weekend venue for meetings and events. However, we knew at the start that we also wanted it to be a community resource – we just didn’t know what kind of form that would take.

Well, I’m delighted to say that, thanks to the ideas of those people who have been popping in for a look or messaging us with enquiries, we are now getting a better idea of the sorts of other uses the Workspace could serve. We’ve had enquiries from parents, students and teachers asking about using it as a study or tutoring space – fab idea! So, we’re introducing a student rate of £2 per hour, which applies weekdays after 4.30 pm and all day at the weekend. Message us on Facebook or call/message 07516 118840 to book. Teachers are also welcome to reserve the entire space for group tutoring sessions (evenings after 6 pm or anytime over the weekend).

There has also been some demand for a private room for phone/video conferencing or confidential meetings. So, rather than add a cubicle to the main space, which would detract from the current open-plan layout, we’ve decided to create a separate room in the entrance hallway. Measuring 1.7 x 3 m, it won’t exactly be a conference facility. However, it will be able to accommodate a table and chairs for two or three people – ideal for client meetings or to prattle away on the phone at the top of your voice without fear of disturbing others. We aim to get that sorted within the month.

Follow us on Facebook for the latest updates on this another activities at Comrie Workspace.

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Making Good Progress

A lot has been happening over the summer to get Hut 14 refurbished. The first big job was to fit the new windows to replace the rotten, draughty, broken and patched units. This has made a HUGE difference, not only to the appearance of the hut, but also to its energy efficiency.

The front-facing brickwork has also enjoyed a transformation. It’s amazing what a difference a lick of paint makes. Although that somewhat trivialises the effort that went into it. The surface prep involved a whole lot of time-consuming (and DUSTY) scraping and grinding. Here’s a wee “before and after”.

Another important development is the arrival of broadband! Yes, we are now connected to the internet thanks to the good people of Bogons at the Cultybraggan bunker. The ultimate intention is for us and our neighbours to have a hard-wired link to the bunker’s super-duper high-speed broadband. However, that involves quite a bit of digging. For now, we have a microwave link which, last time I checked, is giving us wi-fi download speeds of around 25 Mbps and impressive upload speeds of nearly 70 Mbps! We plan to install a more powerful router for even faster wi-fi, and have run in cat 5 cable for direct connection.

This unassuming little item is the microwave receiver that is now delivering broadband to Hut 14

The room that will eventually be our bathroom started out as a pretty sorry affair. Dirty and dank, with flaking paint and a leaky roof. We’re now well on our way to a respectable comfort facility. Algae and moss killed off, decades-old paint scraped away, brickwork repaired and, to top it all off (literally), a brand new roof that actually keeps out the rain. Next steps are to insulate the roof, run in a water supply and connect to the sewage and waste-water lines.

Oh, and we’ve been getting a bit carried away with the whole branding thing. The doors used to be a vibrant shade of cerise pink, which I’m sure was great for a pole-dancing studio (which this used to be), but not exactly in keeping with the Comrie Workspace CI. So, guess what, they have a new colour scheme …

The main office space had become quite a guddle, with all the dust generated, not to mention the building supplies and decorating equipment lying all over the place. But with the mess-generating work just about finished, we’ve now begun the process of clearing out the space in preparation for the furniture. We’re looking forward to see it starting to look like a proper workspace over the next week or two.

More soon …

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The Before Pictures …

It took a while, but now we have our lease all sorted and we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and make the hut shipshape for Comrie Workspace.

The exterior needs a bit of sprucing up, but that’s largely a cosmetic thing that we’ll fixwith a bit of elbow grease and a lick of paint. We also have some smart new signage on order. The hut faces onto the Cultybraggan allotments and the orchard behind them, where the good people of Comrie cultivate all kinds of flowers and produce. Behind that are the gorgeous hills of the Aberuchill estate. Therefore, we reckon the somewhat overgrown space out front should be transformed into an outdoor seating area. I don’t think we’ll actually put a desk there though …

The interior is actually already well finished. We need to fit a few more radiators if we’re to benefit from the camp’s eco-friendly district heating service once the chilly temperatures of a Scottish winter set in … no wait … we’ll probably need it to cope with the chilly temperatures of a Scottish summer, too.

New double-glazed windows are on order to replace the existing single-glazed units – keeping the appearance in line with the existing units, of course, to fit in with the rest of the camp. The west-facing windows are currently covered over by the interior cladding, but I think we’ll open one of them up again to take advantage of the view to the front of the hut.

You’ll be glad to know that, as well as a fully functioning heating system, we’ll also have running water! Oh yes, we know how to treat our clients 😉 A supply of good-old H2O will allow us to press ahead and install a kitchenette and a WC – which is where the most work is needed.

This rather shabby little annexe currently has a leaky roof and is of dubious structural integrity. But worry not, we have the right team for the job on hand to deal with that, so there WILL be comfort facilities.

While that’s going on, we’ll organise the furnishings. We already have quite a few bits and pieces squirreled away. The plan is not to create a sterile office environment, but more of a home-office-away-from-home feel. In the interests of an eco-conscious approach and to keep costs down, we’ll be rummaging around on Gumtree and the like to find a suitable assortment of desks and other accoutrements. If you know of any items available in the general environs of Perthshire/Central Scotland, do let us know via the Contact Us page.

In the meantime, we have lots to be getting on with. Do follow us if you would like to be kept up-to-date with developments.