Communities in Transition: Shoreditch

Communities in Transition: Shoreditch

Future of London’s Communities in Transition series continued on 30th October with a field trip to Shoreditch to learn about how regeneration has been managed by Hackney and how it has worked in partnership with local businesses to shape the area’s development.

Andrew Sissons speaking at BL-NK

We started at BL-NK, the new incarnation of 2012’s Hackney House, a temporary venue to showcase the best of Hackney talent in the arts, creative industries, and tech sector.  Inside we assembled on furniture made by local designers and listened to Andrew Sissons – Head of Regeneration Delivery at LB Hackney – speak in depth about how Hackney has changed its approach to regeneration, moving away from programmatic delivery to focusing on town centres and attracting inward investment.

BL-NK. Photo courtesy of BL-NK
Photo courtesy of BL-NK

BL-NK, and Hackney House before it, exemplify Hackney’s new strategy. Both were realised with strong private sector involvement and have been hugely successful. Hackney House was invited overseas to represent Hackney’s tech sector at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and returned having secured £7.5m in new contracts for local firms.

The council has adopted a proactive approach to bringing business into Hackney, and forms strong relationships with businesses who respond in kind. In appointing Town Centre Managers for the focal points of commercial activity inside the borough, Hackney gives businesses a single point of access to council services.

Hackney’s role in economic development has shifted away from trying to deliver development by itself to becoming more of a facilitator, working with local businesses to help them grow, and with Hackney residents to take advantage of this growth. In order to be effective in this role, the council has to have a good relationship with local businesses, knowing what they need and making it easy for them to try new things.

Duncan Ray Hoxton SquareDuncan Ray, Town Centre Manager for Shoreditch, spoke about how the team acts as a conduit between businesses and the wider council, providing practical help with navigating the planning and licensing processes and providing link-ups with key partners.

Hackney are working hard to ensure that inward investment brings jobs for local residents, and have set up an employment programme to match local jobseekers with vacancies. Ways into Work is a free service wherein local employers let Hackney know about their needs, which the council then finds suitable employees for.  As one example, the scheme ensured that 24 new jobs at an Aquascutum outlet have gone to local residents.

Hackney’s strategy for Shoreditch is based around maintaining accessible commercial space, so that the vibrant atmosphere does not disappear as cheap workspace fills up and land values rise. As commercial space is at a premium in the borough, one of the council’s key policies is to use Section 106 agreements to secure a set percentage of affordable workspace in new commercial developments, much as affordable housing would be secured.

Andrew Sissons TramshedAs we moved on to Hoxton Square, we heard about Hackney’s efforts to protect the atmosphere and look in Shoreditch, by trying to maintain the mix of independent businesses and creative industries. Hackney is supporting these sectors through a drive to preserve the character of the area when considering new developments – such as discouraging glass and steel architecture and seeking interesting tenants for available properties.

This approach helps to retain the welcoming atmosphere that has made Shoreditch so attractive to businesses, and has also formed the basis of Shoreditch’s leisure and tourism industries. It is important that as companies grow and move on, they are replaced by businesses looking to try new things and contribute to keeping the area exciting – one stop was Tramshed, a Mark Hix concept restaurant in a Grade II-listed building, featuring artwork by Damien Hirst.

Hackney targets and approaches businesses they would like to locate in the area – and the creation of a Fashion Hub in Hackney Central is a result of this drive to cluster like-minded and mutually beneficial businesses by providing the right types of workspace and mix of tenants (including designer outlets, studio and manufacturing space, and educational facilities).

Tea Building Josh TobinOur next stop was Derwent London’s Tea Building, where Josh Tobin spoke about the company’s relationship with its tenants and how the building has changed as Shoreditch has developed. The Tea Building can be seen as a microcosm of Shoreditch, with Derwent adopting a flexible approach to the workspace, allowing tenants to adapt it to their needs, within certain parameters and with a “no suits” ethos. As rents have risen, they have sought to award tenancies on the basis of maintaining a creative mix, rather than to the highest bidder.

As we moved on to Boxpark, this theme became apparent again. Ross Thompson, Operations Manager at Boxpark, explained that they are keen to promote small, independent businesses and have adapted their tenancy structure to make it easier for this market sector to obtain retail units. By offering short-term leases, Boxpark gives independent retailers a chance to promote their products in a low-risk environment and gain vital experience that they can use to establish themselves.

This group also ‘walks the talk’: Boxpark founder Roger Wade recently started a campaign to allow 3 months’ business rates relief for independent traders in order to further lower barriers into retail, and offered to match that with 3 months’ free rent at his premises.

Boxpark Ross Thompson

By adopting a flexible approach to dealing with businesses and creating simple structures (such as Town Centre Managers) for them to access services, Hackney has built strong relationships with local businesses. As in Tea Building and Boxpark, the assumption is that over-management will stifle innovation and so the council takes the role of “soft co-ordinator”, providing a platform for businesses to implement innovative ideas and supporting them where necessary.

This anti-programmatic development model has helped to build the diversity and creative mix which have made Shoreditch so popular, and which Hackney, Derwent and Boxpark are so keen to maintain.

Communities in Transition will continue in Spring 2014. The series examines best practice in locally-directed regeneration, giving public-sector practitioners in planning, regeneration, economic development and related areas an opportunity to learn first-hand from key stakeholders in successful regeneration schemes, in an informal and interactive atmosphere. If you would like to partner with us in organising a field trip, contact us.