The city of Woodstock will launch a pilot co-working center in August with the help of a grant.

The co-working center at Stage Left Cafe, 125 W. Van Buren St., will be open weekly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays beginning Aug. 7.

The concept of co-working is a centered workplace option for home-based entrepreneurs, creatives and small business people. Already popular in Chicago and other nearby suburbs, co-working offers a change of scenery, fewer distractions, networking opportunities and more productivity. No membership or rental agreements are required.

“Sometimes you just need to get out,” said Terry Willcockson, grants/communications manager for the city of Woodstock.

The suggestion to pursue the co-working space came from the first session of On the Table, a community event hosted by the city in May. The discussion centered around Stage Left Café, a city-owned venue that showcases local talent at night but is unused during the day. 

Willcockson sought a grant for developing the space, creating a proposal called Co-Working @ the Café.

Woodstock was awarded a $2,500 grant from Chicago Community Trust’s Acting Up awards program. The center will be offered at no charge to users from throughout McHenry County to gauge area interest for possible future development of a membership-based center at the city-owned Old Courthouse facility.

The Acting Up awards opportunity was offered to participants throughout the Chicago region who sponsored On The Table community conversation events in May.  About 300 video submissions requested support for community-building ideas that originated during these conversations. Dennis Sandquist, McHenry County Planning director and chairman of Woodstock’s Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House Advisory Commission, was the idea’s originator, and the video was contributed by freelance videographer Katie Willcockson. Woodstock’s award was one of 43 projects funded at the top level of support. To view the video, visit https://onthetable.com/acting-up-award-winners/.

The first of its kind in McHenry County, Woodstock’s co-working space will have high-speed Wi-Fi and network printing and copying capabilities. Users can meet with clients in a reserved space, connect with peers or work alone. City staff will provide an onsite “concierge” who will be present during the open hours to assist participants. 

Willcockson said the co-working center is a community-building idea that will reach a countywide audience. She hopes that plans to partner with the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce will attract a wide variety of users.

“We’re looking at it as an economic development tool,” said Willcockson.

A grand opening reception for users will be held at the end of the first day, and a social connection event will be offered on the first Monday each month.  A companion feature includes interaction opportunities with participants through the Woodstock Co-Working Community Facebook group, which is being managed by Woodstock artist Wendy Piersall, an Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House Advisory Commission member.

Piersall learned about co-working when 25N Coworking did a presentation at a commission meeting.

“It blew me away,” she said. “I’ve worked at home for 11 years. I wrote a book entirely at Starbucks. … I saw immediate benefits for me. I could get out of my home office and be around other self-employed business people.”

Since becoming aware of co-working, Piersall has become a dedicated advocate for the new program, including the long-term plans to occupy the Courthouse. She is seeking to build awareness to create a demand for it.

“I really want this to happen in Woodstock,” she said.

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