First opened in June 2016 after a £750,000 refurbishment, CoLab Exeter has become a vibrant and innovative co-working space which is home to over 30 projects and services, all of which work collaboratively to support people with multiple and complex needs in the city, and to affect change. The centre receives over 1500 visits a month by people seeking advice, support or opportunities in relation to housing & homelessness, recovery from addiction, rehabilitation from offending, or to improve their health & wellbeing – including mental and emotional health.
At the heart of CoLab’s approach is a philosophy that learning is a tool for change. Director of Learning & Innovation, Fiona Carden, explains, “CoLab is a place where we recognise that learning is a life-long journey. It’s not just our visitors who are looking to make changes in their lives; our staff, our volunteers, our partners in policy and commissioning are all developing every day, wanting to find ways to be more effective, to know ‘what works’, to know how to prevent and address social needs. These changes all require a learning process to inform them, so we have placed learning at the heart of all we do – and our partnership with Cornwall College is a vital component in helping us to achieve that.”
CoLab’s hosted services include a specialist GP practice that works with homeless patients; a social care and safeguarding team; probation workers; housing advice and outreach workers; treatment services; mental health workers; and a range of smaller charities and social enterprises that work together. More recently, CoLab has developed specific services aimed at vulnerable women, and as a result has seen the proportion of its visitors that are women rise to 40%.
CoLab was nominated for two Exeter Living Awards this year, winning the Civic category, and was the highly-commended runner-up in the Best Charity category. Judges said, “CoLab Exeter offers a vital service for Exeter’s most vulnerable – and often overlooked – people. This is a highly complex undertaking and CoLab are rising to the challenge superbly.”
Simon Bowkett, the Chief Executive of CoLab, praised the collaborative community at CoLab saying, “This award is a recognition of the fantastic efforts of over 30 different projects and services – public services, charities, and social enterprises – that have come together to get to grips with some of Exeter’s trickiest social challenges. Tackling entrenched homelessness, or addiction, or offending are complex tasks, and partnership and creativity are essential. At CoLab we create the space and conditions for collaboration and innovation, but it is the hard work, commitment and energy of a broad range of staff and volunteers that means we are starting to see such great results. I was delighted to receive the award on behalf of not just one organisation, but many that are quietly working together to make Exeter a more decent and inclusive city for everyone.”