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Maker's mark

Mon 18 July 2016, 10:58 am

The success of Enfield’s Building BloQs workshop, used by a variety of bespoke producers, has inspired collaboration and a move to a huge new workshop, Meridian Works. James Wood finds out how a big orange shed grew into a £2.7 million project

Rob Quirk, who designs bespoke bicycles at Building BloQs

Designers and producers need access to expensive machinery and tools, but also space in which to operate. Pressure is considerable on those who might have a viable business idea but lack the resources to start up. Renting space in inner London is particularly expensive and even when it’s feasible to invest in equipment, finding space to store and run it is a trial.

These common problems led to four friends setting up Building BloQs in 2013 with around 30 members. An orange shed off the North Circular Road in Enfield is the venue for a huge variety of makers – now more than 180 – allowing entrepreneurs and startups to use high quality equipment at a fraction of the costs associated with renting space elsewhere in London.

Creative makers are looking to the more affordable outer London boroughs, in the type of enterprise which can make it easy and flexible for makers to use. A boon for Building BloQs’ members is how the co-owners allow access – workbenches and studio space are rented on a fl exible, pay-as-you-go basis. Membership costs £40 a year and space is hired at between £20 and £36 a day, depending on the size and type of work bay. For businesses starting out, this is ideal: when the work is there, the facilities are there too.

In this unassuming studio near to a vast Ikea store selling mass-produced furniture, members work with materials such as wood, metal and textiles to produce bespoke furniture, art, clothing, bicycles and a whole range of goods that are snapped up by businesses and residents in the vicinity. Collaboration between members is just as important as helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to get started. The facility features a cafe serving up a different lunch menu every day, offering the opportunity for makers to meet.

Co-founder Al Parra says: “We have always nurtured this idea that we wanted to create a facility that was useful to as many people as possible. Clearly, if you share access to a resource that you’re not able to afford on your own, suddenly a great deal more is possible.

“The idea is that we bring as many different traits, crafts, skills and practices under one roof, in order for people to cross-fertilise, learn from each other and most importantly, feed and commission each other. What we’re really seeing now is the growth of our own mini economy.”

There are a few surprising members. According to Parra, only 400 practising blacksmiths remain in the UK and three of them are signed up at Building BloQs. “One more and we’ll have one per cent of the entire country’s population of blacksmiths,” he remarks.

Members mainly use the space for business: “Some are pursuing hobbies but most have a commercial interest,” says Parra. “Many support themselves almost entirely through the work they do here and there are certainly a lot who support themselves substantially.”

Building BloQs has attracted cross-party political support, with the former London mayor Boris Johnson visiting towards the end of his tenure and shadow chancellor John McDonnell turning up in the spring.

Parra says Enfield Council has always been supportive of the project: “The remit of the local authority is to make the community more sustainable and to increase the options available to residents and its young population. Building BloQs helps support this ambition.”

Councillor Alan Sitkin, cabinet member for economic regeneration and business development at Enfi eld Council, says: “Our support is explained by the council’s ambition to revive our old manufacturing tradition, combining this with our population’s aboveaverage entrepreneurial streak.”

Enfield Council has been awarded £1.35 million from the London Regeneration Fund, to be match-funded by the master developer and contractors working on projects in Meridian Water. The council, in collaboration with delivery partners ACAVA – the Association for Cultural Advancement through Visual Art – and Building BloQs, will develop Meridian Works, a £2.7 million project, which will deliver a huge space for creative makers, artists’ studios and a sky bar, in Meridian Water.

A longer version of this article appears in the latest issue of Opportunity Enfield.

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