Free places to work in London
I’m taking some time out to attempt to write a sci-fi novel (or die trying). As a massive introvert I was initially very excited by the idea of my own company for long, uninterrupted periods. No clients, no developers, no Slack. I had romantic notions of whiling away the winter in front of the fire; just me, my Macbook and my imaginary labrador.
Turns out that writing alone is actually REALLY FRICKIN’ LONELY. There are only so many places in the house you can work before you hate all of them. So after a couple of months I was forced to change out of my Ugg Boots, make some cheese sandwiches and go forth in search of shared workspace.
Guess what? There are loads of amazing, free spaces to work in London!
I’ve been blown away with how you can just rock up somewhere, use their wifi (or leach the wifi from the Starbucks next door) and feel like part of humanity again. Here are some of my favourites:
V&A National Art Library
This library is pretty and makes you feel like a PROPER WRITER, not just a designer going through a mid-life crisis. It’s open to the public, you just sign in at the front desk and choose a seat token from an impossibly retro board with numbered hooks on it. The downside to this magical space is it’s strict – you have to leave your bag in the cloakroom and they provide a plastic bag for your essentials. You can’t bring in coffee or water; this is not the place to come with a hangover. Wifi is fast and plentiful, plug sockets less so. The desks are wooden, there are sweet little lights that overhang each space and it smells divinely like old books.
Westminster Reference Library
I must have walked past this building hundreds of time without realising it is a library – it’s just off Leicester Square. The main library is full of old folk reading newspapers and smells vaguely like a retirement home. Give this a swerve and head upstairs to the Art and Design Library, a shared workspace for around 15 people. The best thing about this place is it’s totally low-rent; you can drink your coffee, plug in your laptop and no-one bothers you. Every time I’ve been here I’ve got a seat and plowed through some serious wordcount, probably because there is no wifi.
The British Library
Join the long queue outside at 9:30am and walk briskly up the escalator to nab a space on one of the many banks of desks dotted around this floor. On the first floor, towards the right, there is a Business Centre with several shared desks or if you’re early, space in a booth. The people watching here is brilliant, it’s like being part of a stock image search for ‘business man’. Wifi is free, there are plug sockets on most desks and no-one bats an eyelid if you walk in with coffee and plow through crisps and a sandwich. You also get to tell people “I wrote my novel from The British Library” rather than sprawled on the spare bed wearing a onesie.
This library is around the back of Guildhall, near Moorgate. The nicest area is upstairs, it’s clean and bright. There are a LOT OF RULES here – no water, plugs are only for laptops, place your bags on the floor, don’t breathe too loudly. If you can get past this, it’s a quiet, functional space where you can get shit done.
I’ve been in love with the Barbican’s architecture since I first came to London. The lighting and orange-and-brown-70s-vibe crossed with brutal concrete lends a hypnotically peaceful feeling. The main building has reliable wifi and you can usually find a perch in the foyer or balcony areas; outside by the water is also lovely on a hot day. The library is up on the second floor and whilst not the quietest of libraries, it has some atmospheric places to work. In the music library, there are booths from the 1970s that look like something George Jetson might have worked from. Sadly, every time I have been here they have all been full, I guess they fill up early. When I die, I hope I get to go somewhere that looks like The Barbican.
Hey, if you’ve got a recommendation of somewhere free to sit and write, hit me up.
Edit: If you’re happy to spring for a coffee, this Foursquare ‘coffee and power’ map from Crew is super smart:
— Geri Reid (@gerireid) March 23, 2016