Two women are in the spotlight, cleaning and caring for North America on a desktop globe. Work at Hand by Audrey A. Heller
Image: Work at Hand by Audrey A. Heller

Saying Goodbye to GCUC Canada

Reflecting on what we accomplished together

7 min readAug 6, 2020

--

When I first brought the Global Coworking Unconference (GCUC) to Canada in 2015, I had a vision of helping coworking communities across the country to benefit from the kind of collaboration we model in our spaces.

I imagined being part of a global network of community organizers working together across conferences and cities. I dreamt of sharing the knowledge of our elders alongside our youths’ demands for the future. I believed as Canadians, we had something unique to contribute to the growing conversations about the future of work, and I was honoured to be invited to share some of our values and Indigenous principles with the rest of the coworking world.

At the time, there was a need within the coworking movement for an annual event to imagine community-led and community-owned solutions. To dream beyond the walls of our spaces and imagine what we could do in our neighbourhoods, and out in the world.

With GCUC Canada, I rang that bell loudly, and so many of you arrived with open hearts and open minds.

You all made it more than a vision.
You made it real.
You showed up, and you kept showing up.

Because of your support over the last 5 years, we were able to achieve so many ‘impossible’ things with GCUC Canada.

In the early days I worked hard to create a ‘different’ kind of conference experience at GCUC Canada. I learned quickly that there is no other way for me to operate.

As the Executive Producer I spent much of my time reimagining our gatherings and how we might use them creatively as examples of — and contributors to — a better, more collaborative future.

Our first event in Toronto, Ontario took place at the Artscape Wychwood Barns. In 2015, a LEED Gold Certified site formerly used for streetcar repair (now transformed into a community, cultural hub featuring artist work studios, a communal garden, and community event space) was a fairly unique and successful case study. We also introduced the coworking world to the birthplace of Canadian coworking (Xpace and The Centre for Social Innovation both launched in Toronto in 2004).

In 2016 we met in Montreal, Quebec and we gathered at the Centres des Sciences de Montreal. This venue allowed us to use our production expenses to support Women and Girls in Science and Technology through programs designed to foster the next generation of scientists, researchers, engineers and technologists. We talked about the potential of blockchain, while we experimented with coliving together on a coworking yacht known lovingly as the ‘Coboat’ — conveniently docked at the pier next to our riverfront venue. And we celebrated together, in French and in English, at the Old Port coworking space CREW with a bustling public café and event space, recently transformed from a heritage bank building as a powerful historic and local symbol of change.

2017 brought us to the West coast, where we were welcomed to the unceded ancestral and traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), the sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and the sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) people — colonially known as Vancouver, British Columbia. GCUC Canada was hosted at 312 Main, the new Centre for Social and Economic Innovation located in the Downtown Eastside. This event was particularly moving, as we witnessed Indigenous Elders blessing and welcoming massive hand-felled cedar beams arriving on site during the event, to be used to build a longhouse — a new community space for gathering and healing. It was at this event, that we sang together for the first time. It was so powerfully moving to use our voices together, and to hear that collective voice echo throughout the former police headquarters. We brought hope and beauty and joy into the space that day.

The Rocky Mountains called us in 2018, and we headed to Banff, Alberta for a coworking retreat at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. It was a refreshing change of pace from the standard unconference event. A somewhat smaller group size, and the benefits of living together in a beautiful natural environment during our gathering truly made the difference. Unconference sessions included hiking, swimming, and rock climbing. Laughter yoga was definitely a favourite. We used this opportunity in the shadow of the mountains to remind each other of the importance of self-care, of talking about our mental health, of the need to slow down, to get some perspective, and to make space for creativity and visioning in our work.

And in 2019 we returned to Toronto, Canada. North America’s 4th largest city demanded a repeat visit. GCUC Canada took place at the Toronto Reference Library in the downtown core, and we explored the overlapping interests and intersections between libraries and coworking spaces. We learned we are both working to create public space, maker space, work space, collaborative space, event space, and affordable, accessible community space — all while developing world class technological and acoustic solutions for our guests.

We learned so much producing GCUC Canada over the past 5 years — I believe it’s important to share.

Through these events, we learned that it is entirely possible to use creative and community-focused venues, ensuring that the majority of our production expenses would be invested directly back into the community itself.

We learned that we could insist upon sustainably sourced, local, healthy catering and we could choose to work exclusively with social enterprises committed to skills training and development while reducing our environmental impact.

We also learned that a strong partnership with local alliances and community organizers is essential — GCUC Canada didn’t come to teach — we came to learn from the local experts and collectives in each region.

We learned that gathering doesn’t need to cost a lot — that we can cut a lot of the typical conference fluff and keep the important human jobs and connections.

More importantly we learned that affordability leads to accessibility, which leads to diversity, which in turn leads to more value for us all. I’m proud to know the annual scholarship program launched by GCUC Canada is now being replicated at many other industry events.

We learned that ethical sponsorship leads to new and lasting friendships and partnerships. By working together in non-traditional ways (like collectively drafting an event code-of-conduct) we can more authentically serve each other, our members, our attendees, and the industry.

We also learned that conference content is intrinsically better when no one is allowed to buy their way onstage.

We learned that some of the best guidance and advice comes from people in other regions and industries — people who look different than ourselves, and people we have yet to meet.

We all have such different but related experiences. Over the last 5 years, we’ve proven diversity truly is our strength.

And we learned a lot from the GCUC organization itself — Liz, Stormy and the entire extended GCUC crew. We’ve shared so much over the years, learning from other event producers in Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, and India. When we share what we are learning around the world, we all get where we’re going much faster.

Creative Blueprint and I have produced the annual Canadian edition of GCUC as a non-profit initiative for the past 5 years, but it’s now time for me to move on to new projects.

I will no longer be working directly with the GCUC organization, and I am no longer the Executive Producer of GCUC Canada. I don’t know what GCUC Canada will look like, or if it will exist in the future, for those same reasons.

What I do know is that my commitment to the coworking movement in Canada will not change.

  • I will continue to organize, to support, to evolve and to challenge the coworking movement from many different platforms.
  • I will continue to lead the coworking collectives I’ve co-founded, and I will continue to manage the Coworking Health Insurance Plan for independent workers across Canada.
  • I will continue to advocate for coworking members, for small businesses, artists and entrepreneurs; to protect freelancer rights and to improve the gig economy.
  • I will focus my efforts on Collective Action towards a Just Recovery.
  • I am committing to improving accessibility, diversity and inclusion in the global coworking movement.

I’m excited to have more time for these important initiatives, and I hope you will all continue to join me these efforts.

Thank you to the hundreds of speakers, sponsors, staff and volunteers who have helped over the years to make GCUC Canada a reality. Thank you to our partners, to our supporters around the world, and especially to my friends and family who have sacrificed alongside me to ensure the movement today is in a better place than it was yesterday. And thank you most of all, to each and every one of you who attended GCUC Canada, and brought your ideas, your experiences, your wins and your failures to the table, so we could all learn together.

I’m not sure if GCUC Canada will always be remembered as the ‘community-driven’ edition of GCUC, but I do hope it’s remembered that we did things differently. That we got here, together. That I did my best to lead us here with the values and the vision front and center.

We still have a long way to go as a movement, but I’m feeling optimistic about the future.

If we are able to keep working collaboratively, then we are able to dream a new path forward.

Wherever that path may take us, I hope we arrive together.

As always, I look forward to working with you ❤

You can reach Ashley Proctor at CreativeBlueprint.ca

--

--