Alex Wolf has worked remotely for five years — working from home, setting up at coffee shops, trying out different coworking spaces and even working poolside. But she never found the right fit. So, she teamed up with Mary Austin Hall, a nurse practitioner at UAB, and local artist Christine Carrier to create something new. Orchard House Beta is Birmingham’s first coworking collective for women, opened on September 1 at Practice Works.

“We just thought it would be wonderful to create a beautiful, small, simple working space for working women,” says Alex, who is the creative director of an Atlanta-based nonprofit. “Women still work differently than men. Even though women have been in the working world now for decades, we still have different expectations put on us. A lot of women are still bearing the brunt of household duties and kids. And women have challenges that other women in the working world can uniquely understand — whether that’s feeling like they have a glass ceiling above them or they don’t have as many opportunities.”

Mary Austin Hall, Alex Wolf and Christine Carrier

Left to right: Mary Austin Hall, Alex Wolf and Christine Carrier are the masterminds behind Orchard House Beta, Birmingham’s first coworking collective for women. Image: Liz Allison

Alex, Mary Austin and Christine hope Orchard House offers women the community and networking opportunities they need to succeed, regardless of their field of work. Orchard House Beta launched with 20 members from a variety of industries. Members include a photographer, a YouTube content creator, a freelance writer, an IT manager, a non-profit consultant and more. While Orchard House is designed for women, all gender identities are welcome.

Pivoting in the Pandemic

Alex, Mary Austin and Christine decided early this year to start Orchard House. Then COVID-19 hit. “We put our plans on hold for a while,” Alex says, “and then it occurred to us that maybe we could make the first coworking space in Birmingham that is suited to the pandemic and built around the pandemic rather than having to wait it out.” To make this happen, they partnered with Practice Works. By setting up Orchard House Beta at Practice Works, the women could try out their coworking collective idea with minimal risk.

Meredith Calhoun, co-founder of Practice Works, was eager to support Orchard House. “We believe in their mission,” she says. “We see a real need for a dedicated coworking community for women and believe that the design elements we created for wellness professionals translate well for Orchard House prospects and members.”

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While the pandemic stopped many of the group wellness classes and events typically held at Practice Works, Meredith saw an opportunity for Orchard House. “We saw an excellent opportunity to dedicate our largest studio space to this effort,” Meredith says. Alex, Mary Austin and Christine hope Orchard House Beta is the perfect place for their members to work on any given weekday. “Depending on the day, I know sometimes I want to work at a table or a desk, sometimes I want to sit on a couch, sometimes I need to be alone and in my zone,” Alex says. “So we’ll have places where any and all of that can happen — any type of work in any type of style.” The space also includes private meeting rooms and phone booths that are perfect for Zoom calls.

Orchard House Beta

No matter what an individual’s preferred working style is, Orchard House Beta offers space to accommodate those needs. Image: Eleanor Stenner

“This all can be done in a safe working environment, having policies and procedures in place to ensure things are properly socially distanced,” Mary Austin says. She uses her medical background to ensure other safety measures are in place as well, such as requiring members to wear masks when they move about the space and sanitizing work stations with EPA-approved disinfectants. “We’re building in the pandemic procedures in our rhythms from the beginning,” Alex says. “We’re not having to adopt them.”

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Looking Ahead

Alex, Mary Austin and Christine hope to one day move Orchard House into a space of its own, where they’ll offer maker spaces for artists, studio space for photographers, and private offices for other members. They also dream of an event space to host lectures, workshops and parties. From workspace to workshops, Mary Austin says the Orchard House mission is simple — “Educate, empower, and lift up.”

To learn more about Orchard House Beta, visit orchardhousebham.com

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