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(Co)Working our way around town Part 3 – Costa Coffee, Kings Heath

Welcome to our third cafe-with-wifi review – hopefully building up into a little guide for other people who work from home as to where they can go to get out of the house but work in comfort.

I was talking about this with Laura the other day, and we reckon there’s a graph or Venn diagram to be produced with our requirements, which are: plenty of plug sockets; comfortable and utilitarian seating; decent food at a decent price (Laura) / skimmed milk (me); decent, non-flaky wifi.  Not a huge list – but we haven’t found anything with all that yet (apart from My House, which doesn’t seem right). Anyway:

I’ve spoken to someone who lives in Kings Heath and claimed he worked in the new Costa and it was nice and comfy and a good place to work.  So, even though we’re more Independent Café type people, we thought we’d do an extra trip and take up a table at a corporate.

So, Laura and I arrived at the same time – all well and good.  A comfy sofa came free and I popped to get the tea. Immediate brownie points – they have skimmed milk.  There’s a range of food and biscuits but nothing I can have (so I’d still choose Starbucks if I wanted a chain and a bun) and all seemed good. Then I asked for information on the wireless.

There isn’t any.

So, we’re in a big new shiny café in the heart of Kings Heath, which surely must have a high proportion of freelancers and home-workers. There are power points all over the place – by far the most we’ve found.  And there’s no wireless network.

So while we came in here not exactly wanting to promote this café above the fantastic independent cafes and quirky chains but open to seeing what it was like and having another option when the lack of plug sockets and noisy stuff in other cafes got too much … but we can’t really recommend somewhere where we can only work offline, or with one of those fancy little boxes that, you know, cost money to run.

Other minuses – the seating arrangements were a little odd. You could sit on a squashy sofa, but then you had to rest your laptop on your knee, as the tables are very high. If you try to put the laptop on the table, well, organgrinders and monkeys come to mind …

“What if I found a rat in my tea?” shouted Laura suddenly. She was doing her PR thing and trying to get hold of Costa’s PR office to try and find out what their policy was on wifi in the cafes (it seems is is available in some). And she ran into all sorts of obstacles – which I’ll leave her to describe in her post  …

My verdict: Skimmed milk does not a co-working space make!

Read Laura’s post here and see what she thought of our co-working experience!

For all our cafe reviews so far, click here.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Reviews

 

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(Co)Working our way around town Part 2 – Kitchen Garden Cafe

Here’s the second in an irregular series of wifi cafe and co-working spaces, written by me and my friend Laura.  This time we visited the Kitchen Garden Cafe on York Road in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

I want to say first of all that the KGC is a great place.  The staff are friendly, the food is good, wholesome, mainly organic and pretty good value for money.  It’s comfortable and relaxed.  But, is it a good space for co-working?

We arrived at 11 am and ran into a friend of mine who was already working in there.  We sat in the back room because there happened to be more accessible power points in there.  Here, the cafe scores well, with lots of double plug sockets near to tables; no trailing leads to worry about and the tables are of different sizes, so you don’t have to worry about taking up a big one just because there’s electricity there.   It can get a little bit crowded but, to be fair, it was fine today, from 11am till about 1.30 pm.

The wifi access is simple – choose the one network that comes up and put in a password: no need to register or sign up for anything.  I had some laptop issues which were my own fault, but my two companions accessed the internet fine and didn’t seem to have any problems with the signal dropping or fading.

Food is of decent value and range at lunchtime.  They sometimes have skimmed milk available; if they don’t, there’s always soya milk on offer (and they popped out to get some more this time, rather than just saying they’d run out), and, more importantly, there’s a friendly understanding that that is what I need, it’s not odd, and semi-skimmed won’t do. This is slightly unusual, and to be praised!  We both had home-made fishfinger sandwiches (the fishfingers are pieces of battered fish, not the breadcrumbed variety that I’d been expecting, but to be fair, I didn’t ask, they did do me a lovely sandwich without butter or tartare sauce, and there was enough filling that I could extract the fish from the batter and construct a decent sandwich).

So, a good experience so far.  But unfortunately, lovely cafe as it is, with the excellent assets of plenty of power points, simple wifi access and no one hassling you to buy another cuppa, I’m not sure it’s always the best place for co-working, or indeed working.  The music was quite loud when we were in there, and also – another plus in general – it’s a very family friendly place … so it was full of small children and the inevitable accompanying wails and cries.  I want to stress that we are not anti-child, and it is fine that this is such a place for young families to visit and feel comfortable in.  It just didn’t go, on this visit, with trying to take phone calls or concentrate all that much.  I got some writing done on some draft blog posts, but don’t feel I could have concentrated on anything that immediately needed to represent me perfectly, like publishing blog posts or posting on forums.

But: I do see people in there on laptops a lot, and presumably they’re not all playing Farmville and Tetris! And I do like going there, and I’m sure it  depends hugely on who else is in.  And I would never want to deny the other users their space and enjoyment of this lovely part of the local community! I wonder if a solution would be to open up the room upstairs that’s used for music events, pop a table and some chairs in there and call it a co-working space.  I’d certainly use it!

I will be back, to draft some blog posts or go on some online forums, but mainly in my usual incarnation as a straightforward customer (or BookCrossing lady), there to have a nice, relaxed time and a nice cuppa in a good atmosphere.

Read Laura’s post here and see what she thought of our co-working experience!

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2011 in Reviews

 

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Cafe reviews

Ooh look – we’ve inspired someone else to write wifi cafe reviews! I really enjoyed reading this one and will visit the cafe next time I’m in Glasgow …

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Reviews, Writing

 

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(Co)Working our way around town Part 1

Now I’ve got more flexibility in my timetable, I suggested to my friend Laura, who also works from home (and cafes, and her office … ) that we add in some “co-working” time to our regular lunches. The definition of co-working has extended from its original “working with colleagues” idea to include working in parallel with other people, who are probably not your direct colleagues, in a space which is probably not either of your offices. That sounds a bit muddled – it’s basically those sets of people with laptops sitting around a big table in your local cafe.

So, we decided to try doing this at a local cafe, and then we decided to start writing an irregular series of reviews of local venues with free wifi in which it’s possible (or impossible) to work. We’re going to work our way around Kings Heath and then possibly venture further afield.

Our reviews will appear on both of our blogs and appear at the same time – I wonder if we’ll have the same opinion of all of them!

Loco Lounge, High Street, Kings Heath

This large, relaxed cafe bar hasn’t been open long but seems popular with the locals, with the outside section being full on these sunny Easter days. It was pretty empty when I arrived at around 10.30 am – but this was a good thing, as I was a bit nervous about taking the laptop out and about.

First things first – a decent pot of tea can be had for £3, and they have soya milk if not skimmed (I am on a special diet for health reasons – you’ll see a lot about milk from me!) although the server didn’t seem sure about how to access the free wifi that was advertised at the front of the cafe. But she asked a manager and we were told that, instead of being given a generic username and password, we needed to set up our own logins. Fair enough, although not something I’ve come across before. The wifi was through something called U2com and I think it’s probably used across a number of locations, perhaps all of the “lounge” cafes. Fair enough, again, but it was *really* complicated to log on and use it – first of all we had to wait ages for the relevant page to come up, and then you put in a username and password, which did actually give access to the wifi connection, had we but known it, but it then redirected me to another login page, which proceeded to tell me the username was already in use (by me!) and sent Laura off to a validation page which never quite worked. I got a validation email too, which I didn’t seem to need to use.

So that was annoying, and the connection was quite slow and did drop from time to time. The other slight annoyance was the lack of electricity sockets – the only ones we could see were occupied by the plugs for standard lamps, which weren’t on. My other experiences of using the laptop in cafes suggests that there are usually more points available. Luckily I was fully charged up and it wasn’t a problem this time, but it might have been.

Points in Loco Lounge’s favour: it was nice and quiet; the tables were big and well-spaced, so it felt safe to have the laptops out and open, with less risk of spillage and other accidents than some other places I’ve visited. The staff were discreet and subtle and we weren’t hassled to buy more drinks, although we did end up having another drink (me) and lunch (Laura). No comment on the food from me, as I didn’t have any, but the prices seemed a little high for snacks, although there were a good few options for my diet, which was refreshing. The lighting is comfortable, there are free newspapers available to browse, and I certainly felt secure enough to sit and work there for a morning or afternoon.

In summary: tweak the internet connection and login and this is a great and recommended place for co-working as well as other kinds of visit.

For Laura’s review, go here!

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2011 in Business, Organisation, Reviews

 

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