As the English capital is blossoming with flexible spaces to work, it’s also losing its places to play. Since 2011, the number of nightclubs in London has plummeted by 50 per cent, due to high policing costs and gentrification. So what would bring one of the city’s most long-standing and outspoken clubs to open a co-working and private members space?

As a landmark of South London for 27 years, Ministry of Sound sensed an opening in the market and, in July, opened The Ministry. The work spot has been as selective as a vigilant doorman about who to let in, focusing on companies in tech, music and the creative industries. But before bringing in freelancers, start-ups and established businesses, the club owners invited local architects Squire and Partners to transform a Victorian-era printing factory located in Southwark, less than a four-minute walk from the club. The brief? ‘The aim was not just to offer a place to do business,’ said Squire and Partners’ Tim Gledstone. The firm was instead tasked with creating an experiential space that could transition for work and play, a place where creatives could be immersed in a ‘convivial and creative way of life.’

The building was stripped to reveal original timber flooring and brickwork. Plaster patching on the walls exposed an elegance in its history, while hinting towards the rough industrial legacy of the nightlife institution. But that’s where the associations with the mother brand stop: the apartment-style meeting areas filled with high-end furniture and rich materials make a clear statement that head banging has no place here – but if need be, there is a place just around the corner. Indeed, the roughness is just the right amount that private membership would allow, making both the post-rave and Gen Z crowds feel included in the exclusivity.

A pop-up tequila bar has been installed to bring the party to a vanity space

Beyond the design of the space, experience has been built into each environment: from a tequila bar by the women’s washroom to a virtual reality studio, screening and sound production rooms, a 22-metre bar and a sit-down restaurant. And if the physical spaces aren’t enough, The Ministry brought in musician and producer Tom Middleton to design soundscapes for the bar, garden, dining rooms and workspaces. The reasoning? Gledstone pointed out that sound offers creatives a new way of thinking that ‘alerts and evokes emotions that can stimulate memory and creativity.’ 

Besides the digital influence affecting nightlife, there is one sea-change attitude that is really kicking clubs in the revenue: wellness

But why does a co-working space require such an elaborate infrastructure that extends so far beyond work? A sign of The Ministry of Sound’s anti-establishment ethos that is trying to deconstruct co-working spaces by discouraging work – similar to how they entered the nightlife scene. 

The club moved into the once dodgy Elephant and Castle neighbourhood in 1991, and since then has become world-renowned as a music-first venue. But as the area went through the growing pains of gentrification, the business encountered its own brush with closure in 2014. After a deal was signed that protected the club, it signaled a change in London’s treatment of nightlife – even leading to mayor Sadiq Khan appointing a ‘night tzar’ to stimulate communication between the police, the council and the city’s party spots. But as London has started to relax its night-time restrictions, a variety of circumstances have gestured to a changing consciousness towards partying in the city and beyond.

Squire and Partners designed a 22-metre long concrete and copper pipe bar that emerges through the lounge

With apps like Spotify making music truly portable, a dance party can now be had anywhere – even Ikea saw an opportunity and created Frekvens, a line of portable LED lights and speakers scheduled for release in 2019. Not to mention, digital natives no longer need to go to the bar to meet a mate, but can instead swipe through Tinder, Grindr or feed their re-released Tamagotchis during their lunch breaks. But besides the digital influence affecting nightlife, there is one sea-change attitude that is really kicking clubs in the revenue: wellness.

The Ministry of Sound caught on to the growing health trend, and in 2017 transformed the club’s secret liquor storage into a fitness centre – an ironic gesture so true of the times that it almost evades teasing

Generation Z has seen teetotalism rising in the UK, with 32 per cent of 16-to-24-year-olds choosing to pass on boozy beverages for non-alcoholic elixirs. The industry is so profitable that even Hollywood actresses can leave their day jobs to become wellness gurus: just ask Gwyneth Paltrow and her well-lit luxury version of health consumerism that has raised her lifestyle website Goop to new levels of spiritual wealth – 250 million to be exact. Wellness has transitioned from a patchouli-bathed counterculture to big business, with its global worth expected to reach 815 billion by 2021.

The Ministry of Sound caught on to the growing health trend, and in 2017 transformed the club’s secret liquor storage into a fitness centre – an ironic gesture so true of the times that it almost evades teasing. But soon, younger generations were not only swapping beers for bikes, but redefining the concept of leisure entirely. Millennials seek experience in their free time, but those experiences are often under the guise of self-betterment – be that in health, creativity or education – creating a leisure time that is always immersive and plugged-in, especially for those behind start-ups or independent enterprises. Suddenly, leisure starts to feel a lot like work, and the desire to succeed professionally gets roped in with one’s improvement. Londoners in particular are said to work an average of three weeks more per year than everyone else in the UK, hinting at the fact that the explosion of co-working spaces has more to it than just rental costs.

The Ministry is a flexible workspace and private members club that can accomodate 850 people

‘The Ministry is anti-work,’ Gledstone stated. The space isn’t about getting people to work harder, but instead to ignite ‘human creativity.’ But fixed desks yielding 325 pounds monthly, creativity comes at a cost… and yet, the space focuses on potential to network, to collaborate with other like-minded businesses and freelancers that identify with the anti-work ethos. To the Ministry, you’re not really there to work, but to enjoy yourself surrounded by kindred souls who share your creative tastes. If that sounds familiar, Gledstone confirms that these no-work spaces are replacing London’s nightclubs. ‘Absolutely,’ he agreed.

The Ministry is inviting leisure into the lives of a generation that demands more out of work and the spaces it happens in. But so, is the co-working space really the new club? No: they’ve just moved in together.