London workspace doesn’t need to be unaffordable

The Affordable Workspace Manifesto will help save independent businesses

Try to imagine a London without the small businesses of Portobello Road, Brick Lane, Columbia Road and China Town. Impossible right? Well actually, wrong…

For the last six months the New Economics Foundation has been working with the East End Trades Guild to raise awareness of the impact that soaring rents have had on small independent businesses in the capital.

Our research has revealed the quiet devastation that is being wreaked upon local communities, destroying livelihoods and unraveling the social glue and human connectivity which small independent businesses provide. The families and individuals who own these businesses are the beating heart of a diverse and thriving economic ecosystem across London.

Over the course of our research we have uncovered shocking stories that illustrate the effects on business owners, which include:

  • A suicide in Haggerston triggered by a 200% rent increase
  • A nursery in Hackney with 100 children on its waiting list because it cannot find affordable space
  • A Bethnal Green family business facing eviction or paying a 275% rate hike
  • A stationery manufacturer who left Hackney after 150 years for Woodford

This morning I attended the launch of the Affordable Workspace Manifesto, hosted by the East End Trades Guild – which was founded five years ago and now represent 270 local businesses – at the wonderful independent Genesis Cinema in Mile End.

The manifesto is the result of months of work carried out by members of the Guild. Using community organising principles, they have undertaken research, alongside advocating and campaigning, to ensure that the diverse and vibrant independent economy in the East End is given the support it deserves.

The manifesto calls on councils across the capital to:

  1. Recognise Community Value of small and micro business to boroughs’ prosperity and reflect this in economic and planning policy decisions
  2. Identify at least one Empty Asset in their borough and convert into affordable workspace before the end of 2018
  3. Create a Small Business Community Land Trust to support small and micro businesses in perpetuity
  4. Create a Register of Landlords to allow small businesses to compare rents
  5. Support the development of an Affordable Rent Formula for small and micro businesses

The London local elections offer a chance to change things. The Guild are calling on prospective candidates to use the power of their leadership to back their manifesto for affordable workspaces and to add some weight to the urgent task of levelling the playing field to help support London’s invaluable independent businesses.

We need to future-proof our local economy by co-producing property developments, regeneration projects and the working practice of large landlords, together with community-based small businesses. In this time of austerity, we must bring unlikely and diverse stakeholders together to find the common ground that is necessary to tackle the rent crisis now – before it’s too late.

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