Londoners are all too familiar with the ever-growing trend of dilapidated, empty or under-utilised buildings being taken over and transformed by developers, often at the expense of a local community and its creative scene.
But in thriving East London, and very strongly in Tottenham, a social enterprise is succeeding in turning this tired trend on its head.
Whilst you may not have heard of The Mill Co. Project, it’s likely you are familiar with some of the businesses it has helped get off the ground.
In Haringey, some success stories include the much-feted Craving Coffee, the ever-popular bar Styx, near Tottenham Hale, and the newly revamped Green Rooms, the UK’s first arts-led social enterprise hotel.
The latter opened earlier this year after an astonishing transformation which returned Wood Green’s derelict ‘old building’ to its former Art Nouveau splendour. We told its story back in March before it re-opened its doors.
“I guess you could call me a social entrepreneur,” Nick Hartwright, who co-founded the Mill Co. Project in 2010, told Seventhsister back then. “I run and co-run a number of businesses, all of which are arts-based and about bettering communities.”
It is regeneration at its best. Nick spots opportunities to partner with local authorities to turn dilapidated buildings into affordable spaces for local artists and creatives to use as a platform to build their businesses.
The scheme works by providing rent subsidies to these businesses on the basis that attracting and retaining creative industries helps strengthen communities. Ultimately the ambition is that, as young businesses grow, so do local employment opportunities.
The Mill Co. Project has transformed eight spaces in London to date, including four in Tottenham: Gaunson House, a creative workspace; 5 Ashleigh Road, where Styx is based; Carvall Warehouse, a space for ‘makers’; and Canon Factory, home to Block 9 and PunchDrunk, the immersive arts group.
Nick describes The Mill Co. Project as a ‘facilitator’.
For instance, Haringey residents and Craving Coffee founders Matt and Rachel Ho had a great proposition for a start-up, turning their love for coffee into a viable business, but without the means and space to get going.
Cue The Mill Co. Project, who were able to offer them an affordable space to open a licensed café and bar and event venue in Gaunson House in Markfield Road.
Another example is Styx, a buzzing performance-bar next to Tottenham Hale station which the immersive theatre production company RIFT was able to realise thanks to a unit provided by The Mill Co. Project in Ashley Road.
However, The Mill Co. Project are more than just a space sub-letter. Within the Green Rooms Hotel for instance, Hartwright is giving local, wannabe chefs the opportunity to run a three-month pop-up restaurant.
This initiative provides them invaluable experience of running and managing a catering business. Colombian Street Food Kitchen and its head chef Esteban is currently in residence. They are looking for the next one to take over from February 2017.
Space provider feels too crude a label for The Mill Co. Project. Its careful curation of local talent and the interesting projects it chooses to back will continue to bring a positive change on the evolution of our borough.
Look out for Seventhsister’s forthcoming monthly spotlight on the people and the spaces at the heart of The Mill Co. Project’s work in Tottenham and Haringey. We’ll revisit the three initiatives mentioned here, plus:
- Punchdrunk – experimential performance-makers
- Block9 – famous for super structures they build at Glastonbury festival
Words: Selma Willcocks