Anne-Marie Booth explores the application of the “Fifth Space” approach, strategy and design (Loe, 2014)


If ‘first space’ thinking is about what we do at home; ‘second space’ thinking is about life in the workplace, and ‘third space’ thinking is about the places where our social interactions take place – then what about fourth and fifth space thinking? As shown in the diagram below, fourth space thinking would be the virtual realm where people connect externally to the environment. However, fifth space thinking remains ‘people centred’, and combines the spheres of social relationships with the workplace, which then filters its way into the home-life when it becomes a way of life.


What might an application of fifth space thinking in education look like then? Let us take the cafe environment for example at The Hive: Outwardly this is a social space where people in the local community come to meet and talk, but its underlying agenda is educational, which is where the social sphere meets the workplace. In fact, it is through the third space primarily (social interactions) that creates the work space. The idea behind the cafe is that it becomes a Hive of ideas and community knowledge and information, that the workplace *is* a social gathering.

This concept is not something particularly new; in fact, small family businesses and workplaces grew out of tightly knit social groups and agendas. The thing that divides people today is often technology and a computer desk; therefore to have a workplace that is fundamentally also a social space is a novelty. To have a cafe that is educational in the broadest sense, i.e it not only offers work experience placements, but is a place where education happens within a business by meeting the needs of the community around it.

From the cafe for example, people are able to volunteer and gain confidence as well as direct customer experience; others come in and search for jobs using the computer facilities, sharing their experiences and helping each other. Some come to use desk space and run their business from the cafe, alongside friends and families who come in to catch up and see how things are going. There are some structured activities too, such as a craft club, cookery course and youth group that meet at distinct times throughout the week, but to deem these the only ‘educational’ activities would be a mistake.

The range of activities is broad, but what unites this space is that it is people-centred. Education also happens when people turn ideas talked about in a social context into a reality. For example, ideas for self employment; ranging from dog-sitting, to gardening or hosting a pop-up restaurant all become possible in a supportive environment and living space where a business has become a reality. The cafe in this sense is not a ‘school’, in fact it has no age range or ‘lessons’ but is still an educational medium; and in this way it is different from traditional ‘fifth space thinking’ – it does not combine social interactions with the workplace/ community. Rather, the workplace is a hive of social interactions, which inform and develop services for the community.

It is perhaps the volunteers themselves who gain the best education of the community as they actively serve in a social/ work based environment, capturing the needs and lives of the people around them.  As such, the cafe is an organic reflection of the concept of fifth space thinking, rather than a construct of the concept. Perhaps a cafe is not the only unique setting from which fifth space education can be practiced or applied; but it certainly captures the possibilities of what can happen when you view education cross-generationally and within a community context.

Leave a Comment