Workspace that Works: Camden visit

LB Camden has strong demand for workspace, ranging from large multinationals in central London and King’s Cross, to small creative industries in Camden Town, a jewellery cluster in Hatton Garden and a growing life sciences sector around Euston Road.

Transport-led development has been a significant driver of workspace provision, with 3.4m sqft in the King’s Cross development alone. Euston looks likely to undergo further development as plans progress to make it the terminus of the High Speed 2 railway.

On 24 May, Future of London organised a field trip to visit examples of SME workspace provision in Camden as part of our Workspace that Works programme.

Camden workspace

Kate Gibbs and Patrick Jones of LB Camden outlined the council’s approach to SME workspace. As well as supporting creation of new workspace and protecting existing provision, the council is exploring taking a more direct role, for example through providing space in a council-led development at Liddell Road and overseeing conversion of the council’s old town hall building to include a floor of SME workspace.

Camden’s planning policies encourage the creation of space suitable for small businesses, including short leases, flexible layouts, networking and social spaces, and spaces suitable for management by third-party providers.

The council is also trying to protect existing workspace: areas of the borough that fall within the Central Activities Zone are exempt from permitted development rights, and the council has adopted Article 4 directions for other employment areas in the borough.

Camden Collective, Temperance Hospital

Camden Collective was set up by the Camden Town Unlimited business improvement district in 2009 and has run a series of meanwhile workspaces in high street buildings approaching the end of their lease. The Temperance Hospital is one of two current projects and is in a previously long-term derelict building slated for demolition when Euston station expands to accommodate HS2.

Temperance Hospital offers free desk space to creative industries start-ups and offices to more established businesses. The initial deal with HS2 to use the space lasts for a year, but could continue for longer depending on how quickly the rail project progresses.

Creative industries businesses in their first six months of trading can apply for free desk space, and there are currently 50 applications for every three spaces. In return for free space, businesses must agree to adopt a positive attitude (Collective’s cardinal rule is “Don’t be an arse”), take an active part in the community (by giving up time to help improve the space or share skills) and submit to quarterly reviews to help business planning and growth.

Camden Collective has received funding through several rounds of GLA regeneration funds as well as the BID and Camden council, and an internal cost-benefit analysis calculated £16.7m in local economic benefits from £1.4m of funding.

Upper floors contain offices which are let at affordable rates and subsidise the free workspace; HS2 also rents ground-floor space which it uses for consultations. This is helping Collective move towards a more self-sustaining model of cross-subsidy. Adam Richards, Project Manager at Camden Collective, noted that the BID was an ideal delivery partner as it can act quickly and be responsive to changing conditions, which is especially useful when dealing with meanwhile spaces.

With limited funds, Collective relies on volunteers to help improve the space and basic but functional design. To get best use of the available space, 80 desk spaces are used by 180 people and communal and breakout spaces act as overflow if needed. Adam said that for most users, the most important design feature was availability of fast internet and 24/7 access to the building.

Temperance Hospital

London Bioscience Innovation Centre

Life sciences is a key sector in Camden, with high demand in the area around Euston Road. As well as excellent transport links, the area offers agglomeration benefits as it is home to several large life sciences institutions: the Francis Crick Institute, University College Hospital, the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Veterinary College (as well as the British Library, which offers access to research).

The London BioScience Innovation Centre opened in 2000 in response to government research which found a lack of commercial lab spaces in central London. LBIC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), from which it rents its premises on a 25-year lease. The two institutions share a CEO, and RVC provides IT and administrative services to LBIC. In 2005, LBIC secured a commercial bank loan to expand facilities on same site.

LBIC contains a mix of labs and offices across five floors, as well as meeting rooms and event spaces. The facility is home to 60 companies, 28 occupying physical space at the centre and the remainder as virtual clients. Physical clients have the option of taking lab and/or office space, and receive assistance from the centre in equipping and running labs. Virtual clients use the administrative facilities (postal address, phone service) and meeting rooms to keep a presence in central London even if they are located elsewhere.

To apply for space at LBIC, companies must have a bioscience link, and the centre prefers to take companies which can collaborate with RVC’s work and research. While most of LBIC’s clients are small businesses, some large multinationals use the space as a central London base.

Jeanette Pickles, Operations Manager at LBIC, said that the centre’s links with the college are mutually beneficial: LBIC maintains a disused part of the RVC estate and pays rent back to the college, and the availability of the college’s resources – as well as its excellent location – provide a strong draw for bioscience companies.

Camden workspace visit

Work.Life

Work.Life is a commercial shared workspace with a 15-year lease on the ground floor of a new student housing development which had previously been empty for three years. Membership costs £250/month, but Work.Life also targets freelancers by offering space on an hourly rate of £3.50/hour.

Work.Life offers a highly designed space, where part of the workspace doubles up as an events space where the company puts on social and educational events for its users two to three times a week. David Kosky, Co-Founder of Work.Life, said that the long lease was essential to be able to provide this kind of environment as it required up-front investment.

David explained that Work.Life’s location near a residential area was a key feature, and 80% of users live within two miles. Working close to home allows users to save on transport costs, which can be significant for freelancers. The company has two other sites in London Fields and Bermondsey, and deliberately targets ground floor spaces rather than basements or upper floors, to increase visibility from the street.

Further reading

This programme is kindly supported by:
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