Local: Q&A with Charlie Hoult

Charlie Hoult shares the exciting plans for HyHubs as the team prepare to launch new co-working space Haylofts, a redevelopment of St Thomas Street stables at Haymarket

Tell us about HyHubs

HyHubs is the chain of business centres expanding across the region from Hoults Yard. We opened our second site in Gateshead and, during lockdown, have finalised our redevelopment of the St Thomas Street stables, Haylofts. Our mission is ‘property with personality’ and you can see that coming through at Haylofts where we have retained heritage features but also built a super-modern ‘pod’ in the glazed courtyard. It includes five meeting rooms and a lecture space for 50. We’ve spent the last few weeks sorting our Covid-secure protocols ready to launch Haylofts – our other sites have been open throughout the crisis and adapted for social distancing

What is the most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region?

We are super-proud of business innovators as we house 150+ firms on a mission to put the region on the map. It’s great to give them a modern home and a supportive community – and watch them grow. Over the years, we’ve moved from seeing 300 employees to now over 1,000 housed by HyHubs. Hoults Yard keeps the buzz going with folk like Full Circle Brew Co, Proven Goods doughnuts, Acropolis street food or Terry de Havilland fashion shoes, but also creative corporates like Onyx Healthcare, Broadway Travel, Chamilia, OOBE and Three Motion.

Of course, we love quirky, so had a long run hosting major events with Shindig, Ballet Lorent, Radio 4 Any Questions?, Mishmash and more, and we also share the love as dog-friendly operators. The funniest day of the HyHubs calendar is our Dog Show.

And the most challenging?

We’re ambitious that the North East matches the world’s best places to do business so we scan the globe for trends and we work hard with people to develop space that can support their ideas. It took us over two years to get everything right for Ghetto Golf to occupy our Clayshed space, but what an impact they’ve made on Newcastle nightlife since opening.

We regularly send the team on scouting trips to London which offers the most amazing co-working options – but we also send them to immersive theatre (and fully paid driving lessons!).

What are the short and long-term plans for the business?

This summer is all about Haylofts and putting our base in Haymarket NE1 on the map! It’ll be sneak-peaks, then showcase – we’ve had a very supportive partnership as we always buy local. The development team has been fantastic: builders STP, architects Xsite, project managers Silverstone, furnishings from Thomas N. Millers and Albany, tech from Aspire and Redwood, with branding by street artist Pete Manning.

What advice would you give to anyone with a business idea?

The best time to launch a business is in a crisis, because things can’t get much worse! I always prefer to look at firms that are ‘fast followers’ rather than ‘at the bleeding edge’, and always look to follow examples for other firms that you can learn from – being too ‘unique’ is often a recipe for opening a firm where there is no established demand. You don’t want to be ‘ahead of your time’.

But always, always, always – run the numbers. If the financials of the business model don’t work on the back of a beermat, then no spreadsheet engineering will help that. But it’s imperative to get from beermat to excel and to show how a financial plan will roll out over 24-36 months as things evolve.

It’s always slower and trickier than the plan, but if you have made some assumptions then you can test and evaluate – rather than get spooked by (too many) unpleasant surprises as things go on.

How has your business been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

The crisis had us all in a spin, but the team really stepped up and has done 12 months work in three. Given the family started this business in 1917, it’s a big responsibility to make sure that I don’t crash something that’s survived 103 years so far. So, my response has always been to work as hard as we can do to ‘do the right thing’ and consider our positive, family reputation will last longer than Covid’s perils. We’ve proactively helped with cashflow, discounts and cost-cutting to pass to clients – as well as lobbied hard to get clients the grants they are eligible for.

Have you adapted your service in light of these challenges?

Personally, I’ve been stationed on Hadrian’s Wall for the past months with weekly visits to sites and constant contact with the team via Zoom, Teams, Whatsapp. It’s been great to adapt to the new technology and certainly see benefits in productivity and efficiency.

However, I’m a people person. I love to catch up with people about their work and lives, to hear the triumphs and challenges – and mostly to giggle through life in company, rather than looking out of the window. So, I can’t wait for lockdown to ease and to see how we fill Haylofts with the next generation – taking it from Scottish & Newcastle Breweries’ stables full of dray horses into the 21st century with growth firms of today!