A Room Of One’s Own: Why Women-Only Spaces Are On The Rise

Great news - a number of female-focused networking and social spaces are opening in the capital. We meet the founders and ask: why the need for single-gender spaces and why now?

A woman must have money and a room of one’s own,” said Virginia Woolf in 1929. We have a feeling that the former Bloomsbury resident would be a fan of The AllBright, a women-only members’ club within a five-floor Georgian townhouse that opened on Rathbone Place last week.

Launched by former Hearst CEO Anna Jones and ex-CEO of home-sharing platform Love Home Swap, Debbie Wosskow, The AllBright started life as an enterprise to educate, invest in and support female-led businesses. Now their concept has metamorphosed into a tangible bricks-and-mortar hub, becoming the latest single-sex space to launch in London.

It might be the newest, but it’s not the first. Flexible work spaces are on the rise – new findings predict that by 2025, 50% of the global workforce will work remotely, so where better to do it than in an inspirational setting surrounded by likeminded women? And in this post-Weinstein world, are women-only environments the way forward? Four female club founders give us the low-down.

Anna Jones & Debbie Wosskow, The Allbright

Billed as “a members’ club for working women,” The AllBright opened in Bloomsbury on International Women’s Day 2018. The club bills itself as a “space for women to thrive” and aims to attract a clientele of female entrepreneurs, executives, creatives and consultants across all industries. Members will have access to desks and meeting spaces, events, talks, exhibitions, debates and networking meet-ups, as well as the bar and treatment rooms.

How did you come up with the idea for The AllBright club?

Anna Jones: “We know from the women that have come to our events and enrolled at our academy that working women often find networking a challenge. They’ve told us they want their own space that celebrates and encourages female creativity and leadership. And that is the point of The AllBright – we want to support and inspire female talent.”

Debbie Wosskow: “Over a quarter of the female business founders we surveyed last year described themselves as ‘nomads’ –  using co-working spaces or coffee shops around their cities to run their business. We recognise as female founders ourselves, in order to maximise your day you need to get as much out of the spaces you use as possible – The AllBright is a multi-functional space for this reason.”

Why did you feel it was important to make this a space for women?

Debbie: “We thrive most when we see what people like us – other women – have achieved. Women have said they’re more productive and find it easier to network in these environments. The AllBright is about giving women a space to build relationships, their careers and businesses and ultimately to change the economic landscape for working women in the UK.”

How did you devise the interiors? What were your must-have features?

Anna: “The club’s location in Bloomsbury inspired a celebration of the legacy of the ‘Bloomsbury set’. Each floor is named after a key female member – Lopokova, Morell, Bell, Woolf and West – and quotes from Virginia Woolf are incorporated into the interior design on each floor. The art on the walls is being managed by Beth Rokeby, who curated David Bowie’s art collection. Having areas to unwind and exercise, get a blow-dry before a night out or a drink at the end of a busy day were all as important as providing work and meeting space when designing the club.”

The AllBright is opening its doors in the midst of a global debate around gender imbalance and female empowerment – do you think concepts like yours have a role to play in this movement?

Anna: “I think women are starting to come together in new ways. We need change, we want things to improve but we want to help each other – the idea that you have to be some sort of power bitch to succeed is just so old-fashioned.”

11 Rathbone Place, Bloomsbury, W1T 1HR; prices from £675pp per year

Visit TheAllBright.com

Layla Rivelino, We Heart Mondays

Opened in October 2017, We Heart Mondays is a creative workspace for women based in Hackney. A bright, on-trend space (think exposed brickwork, white walls and plenty of plants), this is an office environment that’s anything but corporate. Members can book single desks or group seating and sign up for a flexi-pass or monthly membership. Drinks, snacks and Netflix all come as standard.

Why did you decide to launch the space?

“I wanted to create a space where women could come together, feel comfortable to be themselves, be productive and creative, learn new skills to aid their personal and professional growth and be able to network and make friends within their peer group on a daily basis.” 

What has the response been from your members? 

“It’s been overwhelming: we went from being completely unknown within the industry to having over 70 members within three months. Our members enjoy the aesthetic of the space, along with the other women they’re able to engage with. Our meeting and filming room and our events tend to be the most loved benefits of their memberships with us.”

You launched the concept just before the Weinstein scandal/Me Too movement. Does the concept feel more important now than ever?

“I’ve personally come from a male-dominated work environment and have experienced incidents: from the owner of a sales company I worked for suggesting that he should make money from me by setting me up as a sex line operator, to a male co-worker attempting to physically harass me on my lunch break. Being able to provide a safe space for women has always been at the forefront for me. I’m glad that this movement has encouraged abuse survivors to speak out. I hope that it doesn’t end here, and that this continues to be something that we actively work on overcoming as a society.”

Hackney Wick, London; prices from £10 per day

Visit WeHeartMondays.com

Samyukta Nair, Jamavar Women's Club

This initiative was launched by Jamavar co-owner Samyukta Nair in summer 2017. Held beneath the Mount Street fine-dining Indian restaurant, the summer series of monthly supperclubs paired three-course dinners with talks from inspirational women from a variety of backgrounds. Last year’s inaugural events spanned speakers from former Polpetto Head Chef and food author Florence Knight to ballet star to artistic director of the English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo. The series is set to return this summer – watch this space for details.

Why did you decide to launch the Women's Club last year?

“I started Jamavar's annual Women’s Club last year, not only as an antidote to the long-standing ‘boy’s clubs’ of Mayfair, but also to share and celebrate the ethos my elders taught me with the inspiring women of London. It’s a city full of incredible strength and creativity, and I think it’s important that we are proud of that.”

Why did you pick a restaurant for the host space?

“For me, having dinner after a talk by a guest speaker provides a relaxed, sociable atmosphere for women to share stories of both their successes and failures with their peers.”                                        

What was the response to the inaugural event?

“The response was overwhelmingly positive – it was great to see how popular it was. The club provides an experience that leaves the guests feeling inspired, having learned new things and many of the ladies returned to each event. I think that in a place as diverse as London, people thrive from learning from different backgrounds, talents and areas of expertise. I’m really looking forward to this year’s Women’s Club and seeing what a new line-up of inspirational women bring to the table.”

Jamavar, 8 Mount Street, Mayfair, W1K 3NF; prices from £45pp

Visit JamavarRestaurants.com

Kate Percival, Grace Belgravia

Grace Belgravia is a health, lifestyle and wellbeing club for women. Opened in 2012, the club’s ethos centres on health as a pathway to success. Within its walls expect to find a gym, spa, salon and medical clinic complete with nutritionists, GPs, life coaches and personal trainers. Its in-house restaurant serves healthy dishes and sugar-free champagne, and weekly lectures and debates on anything from wellbeing to philosophy to business and the arts are available to members.

Why did you decide to launch Grace Belgravia?

“Women spend their lives multi-tasking, putting family and work before their own health and there was nowhere offering a completely integrated approach; a place they could find everything they need to feel their best under one roof. I wanted to create a space that acknowledged the complexities of women (yes, we can work out and still enjoy a cocktail!) and catered to everyone from expectant mothers to businesswomen.” 

What was the mission statement when you opened, and has this changed as the club has evolved?

“Grace is built on the philosophy that to thrive in today's society women need to invest in their greatest asset – their health. Five years on and this is still very much at the core of what we do. It's also become clear that there’s guilt attached to self-care – it’s so often seen as an indulgence when actually, it's restorative, valuable and fundamental to maintaining our best self. It’s in women’s nature to prioritise others – friends, children, partners, parents – but when it comes to looking after ourselves, we’re masters of self-sabotage. I hear women say time and again, ‘I don’t have time’ and this is a cycle we're determined to break.” 

You launched the club ahead of the current Weinstein scandal and #MeToo movement. Does the concept feel more important now than ever?

“I hope that many of the women who rejected Grace as being anachronistic and out of touch with women who have spent generations seeking equality, will realise that Grace only serves to underpin the cause and allows us to create a space where honesty about who you are as an individual is allowed to prevail. While the conversation is louder than it has been in the past, this is not news to women – we have been fighting these inequalities for years! What the latest campaigns have highlighted is how much stronger we are when we stand together.”

A number of women-only clubs and co-working spaces have opened in London in the last year. Why do you think this is and what makes Grace stand out?

“It’s encouraging to see the paradigm shift in women increasingly seeking out other women’s company. Women have become less competitive with each other and there appears to be a sorority that is stronger than it’s ever been. Grace is far more than just a beautiful environment providing services that support physical health; we offer a support system for women, a non-judgemental place where women feel safe and can be themselves as well as providing practical support and expertise.”

11c West Halkin Street, Belgravia, SW1X 8JL; prices from £1,400 per year

Visit GraceBelgravia.com

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