Green Party Candidate Siân Berry and Assembly Member Caroline Russell agree to work with Guild members ACROSS our Manifesto and offer to make space for a CLT at City Airport!
Written by our Waltham Forest Community Organiser Jacquelyn Strey.
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Thursday, April 29: Guild Members Ava Lyall of Top Up Shop, Peter Hills of Hackney Brewery, and Harmony Hall representative Kaveh Rahnama held a roundtable discussion with Green Party Mayoral Candidate Siân Berry and Assembly Member Caroline Russell to discuss East End Trades Guild’s Commercial Rent Manifesto and ask the Green Party representatives to commit to working with us to support and protect small businesses.
“The key to a strong, resilient recovery needs to be one less dependent on international trade and much more on the success of small, diverse businesses” Caroline Russell
Shamil Joomun, Guild member and longtime Blackhorse Lane business staple, led Siân and Caroline on a tour of the industrial areas of Blackhorse Lane, showcasing the rich diversity of small businesses in the area as well as the high value placed on making and creativity that feeds the very culture of the local area.
Established in 1932 as a manufacturing business in Camden, the current workshop on Blackhorse Lane dates to the 1980’s, when consumers shifted to overseas audio equipment and the family moved into the service and repair realm. Many locals know Armstrong Audio as a coffee shop, which was added nearly five years ago, where you can enjoy a coffee and baked goods alongside vintage audio memorabilia and buy local wares.
The tour continued, passing other Guild locations such as Yonder, a multi-use space featuring climbing walls, a cafe, and workspaces; Blackhorse Lane Ateliers who produce an environmentally friendly, ready-to-wear line of selvedge & organic raw denim jeans; and Wood Street Coffee, who roast sustainable and responsibly harvested coffee beans out of their space in Wood Street Studio.
The roundtable took place on-site at member Hackney Brewery’s brand new High Hill Taproom site on Blackhorse Lane.
AFFORDABLE RENT AND REGISTER OF COMPARABLE EVIDENCE
Ava Lyall was first to share her truth to the Green Party members. Ava began Top Up Shop in the midst of the pandemic in April 2020. She and her partner wanted a better way to shop plastic free and zero waste, especially as people were now confined to their homes and couldn’t necessarily access their previous circular economy shops. In the last year, Top Up Shop has saved the equivalent of over 500 single use plastic food containers from ending up in the landfill and over 250 single use plastic bottles by helping customers use a plastic free circular system. Most people in the area know Top Up Shop as ‘that van that drives around!’- referring to the 100% electric delivery van that allows customers to get their own glass jars filled on their very own doorsteps.
Currently, Top Up Shop needs to expand into a bigger space to grow. But, in order to expand, Ava would need to nearly triple her rent costs. Having more affordable and accessible rental spaces would mean that Ava could store more goods that her customers are asking for and still remain plastic free and 100% reusable packaging. It would mean she could pay herself a living wage and possibly hire more employees. Ava is ready to grow but the commercial rent market is inaccessible.
Siân and Caroline wholeheartedly committed to working with us on defining fair and affordable rents for small businesses within all new developments in London.
“The role of Mayor should be about linking people with opportunities- in this case, linking small businesses to affordable spaces…The fair distribution of resources would help small businesses so much” Siân Berry
REGISTER OF COMPARABLE EVIDENCE
Ava followed up by asking Siân and Caroline to commit to supporting small businesses in keeping rents reasonable, and enable stronger, more accountable relationships with commercial landlords by creating a public register of comparable rental evidence across all TFL and council-owned stock.
“There absolutely needs to be transparency. This will benefit small businesses. There is no excuse for small businesses to be taken advantage of” Siân Berry
Caroline added, “Yes! It is so obvious that this is needed. The public body working for the public good. Yes, the government has a duty to make money from its commercial property but not a duty to exploit people in the process. We can do this in a fair and responsible way.”
Kaveh Rahnama spoke next on the plight of Harmony Hall, a local organisation based in the heart of Walthamstow and which, pre-pandemic, welcomed over 1500 people into the building each week through activities like dance classes for kids, community meetups, ESOL classes for adults, and Friday prayer for much of the local markets Muslim stallholders. Harmony Hall is now embroiled in a dispute with their landlord over use of the space and continued residency.
“Small organisations like Harmony Hall and Crest are under huge threat unless their voices are heard – and listened to – on a level platform with the landlords” Kaveh Rahnama
Kaveh asked that the voice of commercial tenants in discerning the best practice of landlords in the context of the pandemic should be an integral part of the GLA’s workspace accreditation process. The Guild also proposes that this ‘badge of honour’ for landlords supporting recovery and Good Growth should be open to any landlord of small businesses including the GLA’s own stock, London Council’s, and for new developments. Would Siân and Caroline commit to working with us to include commercial tenants in the accreditation process? “Yes. Absolutely”
PROTECT INDUSTRIAL SPACES
Host and Hackney Brewery owner Peter Hills spoke next on the life cycle of the brewery as it started in a Hackney archway while both owners were working in pubs to pay the bills. They grew into their industrial space in Hackney before high commercial rents drove them out of the area and onto Blackhorse Lane. The lockdowns of the last year, and loss of both direct consumer and hospitality clients, meant that times have been hard. Currently, the industrial estates that run along Blackhorse Lane and across Waltham Forest house many other independent small businesses reliant on having access to affordable light industrial space. If rents continue to rise, or industrial space continues to be sold for residential development, local makers such as Hackney Brewery will be forced out of London.
Pete also told the Green Party of Hackney Brewery’s commitment to sustainability: all power that is used to run the warehouse, taproom, and offices is from renewable energy sources, including a nitrogen reclamation system; they check their supply lines and know their ingredients back to the source and their materials are recycled from their bottles to their business cards; and they are London Living Wage employers so their staff aren’t an afterthought.
“We don’t want to do anything dirty to get people drunk.” – Peter Hills
Speaking with Pete, Siân and Caroline committed to holding an emergency summit on light industrial property sector so that Good Growth in the real economy with small manufacturers, hospitality and leisure SMEs can be achieved for long term economic viability.
Caroline noted: “The pandemic has changed everything, even for landlords. I can’t imagine why an industrial estate landlord wouldn’t want to have long standing, secure businesses like Hackney Brewery as tenants.The commercial property market has been disrupted by the pandemic.The focus now is about stable, local businesses and that is what is needed to create a resilient recovery.”
Siân agreed: “It’s such a solid return on investment.”
COMMUNITY LAND TRUST
When asked if the Green Party would commit to making at least one site available through the GLA for the specific purpose of establishing a Community Land Trust small businesses workspace, Siân replied “Yes!” and, with a smile, added:
We’ll do you one better, we’ll make a CLT at City Airport when we get rid of it and use that space for genuinely affordable housing and small business space.
Using figures from EETG partner the New Economic Foundation, the Green Party argues that leaving City Airport as is prevents the creation of 16,000 jobs and has an opportunity cost for the local economy of around £400 million, in the midst of a residential crisis in London.
As Siân and Caroline noted, CLTs are generally used for residential property but noted that using it for small business success is “such a great idea” and they are happy and excited to support this development.
A FUTURE OF COLLABORATION AND COOPERATION WITH THE GREEN PARTY
If elected, both Siân and Caroline were insistent on future work between the Guild and the Mayor’s office:
“What the East End Trades guild is doing is the future. We want to keep in touch.” Siân Berry
“The beliefs of the Green Party and the EETG are so in line. Small businesses are the foundation for a sustainable and resilient economy.”-Caroline Russell
**All photos used in this piece were taken by Alastair Fyfe Photography.