For ten years, Simon Pitkeathley has been the CEO of Camden Town Unlimited, the organisation that’s been buffing up Camden’s reputation and relighting its creative spark. With the success of this multi-award-winning business group, last year Simon repeated its formula in nearby Euston. We popped over to Collective – the former Temperance Hospital on Hampstead Road which is now a thriving start-up hub – to catch up with Simon, and meet three young creative businesses (see p.5) all also housed in the building.
Why did you decide to set up a new business group here?
Euston needs its own identity: it’s crying out for a sense of self. For far too many people, it’s simply a station, little more than an impermeable grey box that is surrounded by areas like King’s Cross, Camden Town, Kentish Town, which are all firmly on the map. Euston is steeped in history, abundant in housing and business. By recreating it as Euston Town, we aim to make this area as significant as its peers.
Crossrail 2 will shortly be landing in Euston Town. What does this mean for the area?
This will be the fourth separate transport project, so we have to ensure that we create a total solution for the area rather than have project after project disrupting our town. We’re doing this by emphasising two crucial elements – affordable workspaces and affordable housing.
Tell us a little about Collective.
Simply put, we are trying to provide space for creative projects in order to give life to dead spaces. The first Collective was set up in 2009 in Chalk Farm. We gave a free two-week lease on a work space to start-ups who would add something to the dynamic and bring something to the community. From there, we evolved, moving from unoccupied building to unoccupied buildings, creating office spaces and work environments, either for free or at a subsidised price (about a quarter of the market rate) to young businesses. Now we’re in the old Temperance Hospital, a building that would otherwise be standing vacant. We have about 400 active members at the moment.
What’s the catch?
The primary rule of membership is fairly simple – don’t be an arse. We’ve had about 800 members so far, and have only had to throw four people out for breaking this fundamental rule.
What is the significance of having free/low rent on a workspace in London?
The value of land in the capital is extraordinary: renting a workspace while attempting to set up a business, you’ll find yourself haemorrhaging money at a time when every penny counts. When starting out, you’re effectively testing your business against the market; it’s a hard slog with a lot of rejection. With the flexibility that an environment like this offers, it’s possible to keep adapting and growing until you find your feet. Financial benefits aside, your ability to survive as a young company is a lot higher in a community setting. Coming into this thriving environment every day, rather than sitting in your mate’s bedroom or a café, allows you to see other people working as hard as you and encourages you to stick at it.
Why are start-ups so important?
Sorry to mention it but Brexit was a massive mess-up. You don’t get economic growth from big business blocks swapping their market share; economic growth happens when small and medium sized companies grow. As these smaller businesses expand, they will pay more taxes, hire more employees and this is the growth we are trying to stimulate at Collective. The fact that we can do this in “meanwhile space” – that is, disused buildings that are waiting to become something else – means that we’re generating capital in spaces that would otherwise be doing little more than gathering dust.