London railway arches home to some of the most innovative sustainable start-ups
Railway arches have long been home to a diverse community of businesses, supporting start-ups and longer-standing companies with affordable and flexible spaces.
The Arch Company’s tenant, Sustainable Workspaces’ , located on Shand Street near to London Bridge station, is just one example. The site, which was previously a textile factory, launched in 2015 and was at full capacity with 20 start-ups within a year. It now houses part of Europe’s largest collection of sustainable business, working together to make the world a better place.
Sustainable Workspaces grew out of Sustainable Ventures’ need for space, with the team having founded 10 sustainable start-ups. They now use their deep entrepreneurial experience to support other sustainable start-ups, including an accelerator programme.
The team behind Sustainable Workspaces established the company out of a desire to provide more affordable workspace for sustainable businesses, as Steve Morrin, workspaces director, explains. He said: “There is a real lack of affordable options for small or start-up companies in the sustainable space in London and a particular shortage of spaces to build and prototype products. Our Sustainable Bridges site provides world-class facilities including co-working space, communal prototyping workshops, communal and private electronics workshops, a library, meeting rooms and event space. We support more than 20 sustainable start-ups at the site.”
Since 2015, Sustainable Workspaces has developed two additional workspaces at Bankside. With their workspaces experiencing high levels of use, they have been looking at options to expand further, both in London and further afield. Identifying further sites located in railway arches is very much on their agenda. Steve said: “Members who are using workshop space are outgrowing the properties we have. We’re looking at future solutions so that we can offer them extra space, and railway arches are absolutely a part of those plans – they are really well suited to these types of businesses.
“The arches tap into the core needs that tenants have at our sites. They are flexible spaces that can be designed with custom fitouts to suit the specific needs of our members and they offer flexible shorter-term leases that are ideal to match our membership arrangements. The broad range of businesses we support means that the option to provide a bespoke layout is key.
Even at their other sites, the team has worked hard to include touches that show their commitment to their member community and differentiate their space. Members’ products have been built into their workspaces, providing mutual benefits including an additional income source for their members and more sustainable credentials for Sustainable Workspaces itself.
Making decisions about which organisations are suited to the Sustainable Workspaces community is a tricky business. The team has worked hard to refine the entry criteria and balance this with their desire to build a diverse membership. As a minimum, the businesses seeking to join should have a commitment to building a sustainable organisation as a core value, with a strong focus on addressing resource scarcity and climate change. Joe Warren, of PowerVault, said: “Working with other low-carbon, sustainable businesses, being able to share those experiences and working in an environment with like-minded people certainly makes it easier to run our business.”
Steve said: “There’s been a huge increase in interest and a shift in the last six years in public awareness and knowledge about sustainability. As a company with sustainability built into our name, we have to be much more conscious of living up to the high standards that come with describing ourselves in that way. We’ve seen a big increase in the number of enquiries we’re getting for workspaces and the applications to our accelerator programme. Interest from sustainable start-ups and larger corporates who are shifting their Corporate Social Responsibility policies in response to the public mood is booming. Environmental concern is no longer seen as a nice to have, it’s much more of a genuine motivation now. The companies we’re working with all have a shared vision of trying to make the world a better place. It’s an inspiring community to work with.”