The past year has been tough for businesses working in the creative industries, with the Coronavirus pandemic putting festivals, shows and events on hold. But new Brixton tenant Chris Canavan spotted an opportunity and has diversified to launch a new business from a previously empty railway arch on Nursery Road.

The 31-year-old used a government Bounce Back Loan to get his new business, Brixton CNC off the ground so that he can continue to use his vast experience as an art director, set designer and production manager to support other companies and organisations working in the creative sector. With Brixton designated one of six Creative Enterprise Zones by the Greater London Authority back in late December 2018 and Lambeth Council pursuing an ambitious strategy to make the borough a leading light for the capital’s creative economy, the railway arch in the centre of Brixton provides the perfect hub from which Chris can grow his new venture.

Developing the sector relies on attracting several creative organisations to set up within an area of the borough, creating a supportive ecosystem of companies that help each other to grow. His location just up the road from creative industries start-up hub, Pop Brixton, and his new links to local arts organisation The Brixton Project, will help Chris to build relationships with local creatives. He said: “My existing company 19MIL was set up in 2019. We design and build stages and immersive environments for live performances or events. In the past we’ve worked with performers like Skepta and La Roux – we designed the neon backdrop for La Roux’s last tour – and on events like the Wireless Festival, Glastonbury and London Design Festival. The company was just starting to take off when Covid happened. It stopped everything. I had to roll with the punches and diversify. A lot of stuff I would have done before won’t be happening this year, so this opens up a whole new exciting field in design for me.

“My new company, Brixton CNC uses CNC routing machines to cut custom-designed wood, plastic or metal components for supply to the creative industries, with these parts used in set design, staging or events backdrops. Where 19MIL focuses on design, the new business takes care of the manufacturing. When we were setting up it made sense to look for somewhere where there’s a growing creative community. I live between Clapham and Brixton, so when the arches came up and were affordable, I felt they would offer a great base for us.”

Having started his business just as the pandemic hit, Chris wasn’t entitled to help from the furlough or self-employed government support schemes. He said: “It’s been a really tough year, but I eventually managed to get a Bounce Back Loan and used that to buy an ex-display CNC machine (new ones can cost up to £150,000). We only moved into our arch a couple of months ago, but already we’ve had some interesting orders. I’ve helped a customer to develop a new prototype and we’ve got an order from an events company, which sounds mad when there are no events taking place at the moment. We will be of interest for anyone who builds sets, design companies, interior designers, or furniture and community garden designers. We’ve been building links with arts organisations, like The Brixton Project, to find out how we can support local community groups. Obviously, there isn’t much happening right now, but it’s all about linking the creative skills and keeping them within Brixton. We hope it helps us to really take off once things start to get back on track.”

Arch 594, Nursery Rd, Brixton