When you work for yourself as a freelance creative, or even as a student, you often work from home. So your top priority (apart from staying sane) is finding the best spots to work productively outside of your home...
Finding a consistently good place to work or study is tricky... but I've got some local secrets for you.
I am a full-time freelance writer (not a secret) living in the fine city of Norwich, England's first UNESCO City of Literature. I have made it my mission to seek out excellent places where I can focus and produce my writing. Using this keen sixth sense of mine, I have found a shortlist of places that offer decent coffee and opportunity to sit outside in the sun – both essentials if I'm escaping the home office!
I have poured a considerable chunk of research into producing this list. I ate lots of calorific pastries, sipped many bitter cups of coffee and angrily tried to log in to dodgy WiFi at many joints to narrow it down to these top ten places to freelance.
Consider this a gift to my fellow Norwich freelancers, as I understand how hard it is to find your focus when roaming with a deadline. The following places are all based in central Norwich and serve food and drinks daily, with most offering free wifi, customer toilets and outdoor seating...
BREAD SOURCE | Upper St Giles Street
I'm a little nervous about sharing this freelance spot with you... as it's my absolute favourite in all of Norwich! If Bread Source catches on and becomes a bustling creative hub, that's brilliant for them, but I'll be the one standing in the rain outside its large, glass window of treats, crying with regret of my lost paradise. You'll be lured in by the smorgasbord of sweet and savoury pastries waiting in trays at the window. After picking your baked good(s), set your workstation up at the long, wooden table in an adjoining room – or the garden terrace when the weather is behaving. Once you realise these guys offer bottomless filter coffee and endless fresh toast, there's no turning back. But please, ssshhh!
Super-friendly service. Fresh baked goods. Great (bottomless) filter coffee. Outdoor seating. Free WiFi. WC available. Power sockets.
GROUND | Guildhall Hill
I feel like this humble cafe goes slightly unnoticed despite being in central Norwich right near the markets. Perhaps it's because they don't really have a web presence? Or perhaps people prefer to flock to nearby Strangers for takeaway coffee or nip into Tesco for a quick lunch. But it's the calmness of Ground that I love! This place is never heaving, so you can pretty much guarantee a table will be free for you and your work. They have super reliable WiFi and the cosy interior is a great spot for client sessions... useful if you're having a lunch meeting where you actually need to hear each other talk!
Relaxed service. Nice tea and decent coffee. Cosy seating at rear. Outdoor seating. Free WiFi (strong). WC available. Power sockets.
STRANGERS | Pottergate
If you live in Norwich and love coffee but have never heard of Strangers – you don't really love coffee, do you? This local legend not only have two shops in central Norwich – one for take away and one for chilling with food – but they also supply their beans to a bunch of popular outlets including Unthank Kitchen and Moorish Falafel. Translated: their coffee is seriously on point. Their seated cafe opposite Grosvenor Fish Bar is a favourite freelance spot of mine, as it has a huge glass fronted window, perfect for people watching and sun-bathing. Oh yes, and writing!
Amazing coffee. Chilled, knowledgable service. Outdoor seating, free WiFi and WC (only at sit down cafe). WARNING: You'll be fighting the crowd at lunch time!
LITTLE RED ROASTER | Grove Road
Perched on three different sites in central Norwich, this respected local brand is up there with Strangers in terms of coffee quality. Their signature cup, a cortado they call the 'Little Red', is my favourite writing accompaniment (pair with a Portuguese tart). The LLR always have a selection of well-presented slices, salad, pastries and stuffed savouries on display for the first half of the day, plus tap water on the go. Heads up though – this is a freelance spot for those working without WiFi, as they don't supply it. It's therefore a great place to read, write creatively or simply focus on pulling your paragraphs together within its red interior.
Brilliant coffee. Generous stuffed sandwiches. Friendly, social atmosphere. Outdoor seating. WC only available at St Andrews Hill cafe.
CINEMA CITY | St Andrews Street
There is a light, leafy outdoor terrace tucked between the intimate screens and bar at Cinema City – and it can double as your freelance conservatory! When the sun is shining but it's still a bit nippy out, this sheltered, glass-roofed spot allows you to comfortably enjoy working in fresh air AND a communal creative space. Order coffee, or something stronger, from the bar and connect to the open WiFi network available. The crowd here are usually very relaxed, as they're either about to see a film or have just indulged in one... but maybe avoid going when they host Toddler Time or Big Scream sessions!
Private courtyard removed from hustle and bustle. Glass roof cover (awesome for drizzly days when you still want fresh air). Best to visit before 4pm (afternoon film sessions start). WC available. Free open WiFi (slowish).
WARINGS | Westlegate
A reliable, solid cafe option for freelancers who need to get cracking before a project deadline, but also a great, central place to host relaxed lunch meetings. Warings is one of the few Norwich cafes that doesn't start to shut down around 4pm – it's open until 630pm. The coffee is alright, the food is mostly bread-based with stew and soup offerings, pastries and sweet treats. There are some cosy tables and a shared bench located at the back of the cafe I would recommend aiming for, with privacy away from the entrance. The best thing about working from inside Warings is its amazing, luxury furnishings, which are all on sale upstairs.
Central location. Inspiring, homely décor. Free, reliable WiFi. Comfortable seating at shop rear. WC available.
SAINSBURY CENTRE OF VISUAL ARTS MODERN LIFE CAFE | UEA Campus
What an inspirational location to write in... You have the beautiful lake (broad) to one side, and the artworks of Bacon, Picasso and Degas to the other. Plus, there's delicious, local Kofra coffee served when you want it, sweet treats from artisan bakers and state of the art-ish toilets! Despite being a short trip from Norwich city centre, this spot is worth the commute. You'll feel like a true professional creative, working among successful artists and aspiring students. The interior is clean, white and airy – make sure you use the correct entrance to the small East End Cafe, as SCVA has a second, busier cafe/restaurant that I would definitely not recommend for focused writing.
Now serving local Kofra coffee = YUM! Coat racks. Modern WC. Free art exhibition. Free ‘cloud’ WiFi (sometimes slow). Sit on the grass or walk around the lake for head space. Opportunity to pretend you're a student again (or a professor, like I do).
THE CAFÉ CLUB | King Street
These guys opened in the same month I went full-time freelance, so I feel an affinity to this friendly little cafe (maybe I'm in The Club?). Located on a busy King Street corner, Cafe Club is perfect for business people to grab a takeaway coffee or lunch, but it's also an excellent people-watching spot for those of us who don't have an office to rush off to. I've noticed they are constantly creating seasonal food and experimenting, so a top central spot for reading or a casually meeting, but due to the heavy traffic I wouldn't suggest logging in to a video conference call here!
Cosy seating, but light and airy interior. Right near Union Building offices (they have freelance hotdesk space for hire). Decent coffee. Seasonal/varied food options. WC available.
TIMBERHILL BAKERY | Timber Hill
This cave-like place proves to me that the scent of fresh bread baking aids productivity. Just like Bread Source, Timberhill Bakery allows you to work, read, edit and write in the surroundings of a modern bread kitchen, complete with strong coffee, incredible panini (including awesome vegetarian and vegan options), and stuffed savoury muffins. Alert though – they don't have WiFi – so venture here prepared and download what you need first. Sit along the large window bench or outside in good weather. Don't forget to take a fresh baguette home so you look all European too.
Dat bakery scent. Great food menu. Knowledgable, friendly staff. Large, shared collaborative wooden table + smaller, private tables. Fresh tap water dispenser. WC available.
BAR MARZANO | The Forum, Millennium Plain
Sit here sunbathing in the morning light and marvel at the giant, medieval St Peter Mancroft himself. Then remind yourself that you are here to get some bloody work done, order a pot of tea and claim your space at one of Bar Marzano's many tables, inside or outside (doesn't matter much, as this cafe has large glass windows). WiFi connectivity is usually fine, but I have experienced a few unreliable sessions. Freelancing at Bar Marzano puts you in the heart of Norwich; near the markets, Chapelfield, BBC Look East studio and the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library for additional research! Just be wary of the date you go, as live events are often hosted in the Forum, so you may be subjected to live adult Zumba.
Central to shops, markets and library. Large menu of drinks, treats and jacket potatoes. Relaxed, social atmosphere. Open till late. They serve beer. Light and airy; always plenty of space. WiFi available. WC available. Power sockets.
Now you lot...
Obviously this list is not exhaustive! It's simply my magical list of top spots to freelance at the moment – there are still a fistful of great places in Norwich I haven't mentioned yet.
The city of Norwich has an AMAZING cafe and literary culture. I encourage locals and visitors to embrace it with their notepad, book or laptop! If you freelance in cafes, I also suggest to make a conscious effort to chat with the staff, share your table with customers, and don't be that person who orders nothing but tap water.
Enjoy your freedom as a freelancer too. Despite the lure of all of these caffeine hubs, sometimes nothing beats the freedom of working from home, in comfort...