Camden Collective: 10 years of powering arts and business

It’s a decade since this enterprising charity reinvented empty spaces in Camden as creative start-ups, says Stephen Emms

Back in the early summer of 2009, I heard about an initiative by a new organisation called Camden Town Unlimited, who were aiming to divert resources and fill shops left empty by the 2008 recession with creative pop-ups. To get a space for free you simply had to pitch a successful idea.

Which is how my interactive installation, Tales From a Park Bench, came to be one of the first shows at the temporary C22 Gallery on Chalk Farm Road that year. The plan was to bring my long-running Time Out column Bench Marks, on the stories behind memorial park benches, to life on an actual park bench installed in the disused shop. Via the fledgling social media networks (there was still no Instagram) I invited anyone and everyone to perform on it spontaneously.

Happily, at the end of the week-long exhibition, it had proved a success, with hundreds of visitors taking to the bench to rant, rap, sing, perform poetry – or even practice yoga.

Little did I know I was one of the first to take advantage of free space that would go on to become Camden Collective, whose mission was to encourage a new generation of creatives and entrepreneurs to see Camden as home.

Performers at Tales From a Park Bench, August 2009. Photo: Stephen Emms
Fast forward ten years and this now internationally respected organisation has spent a decade supporting creative start-ups in the heart of Camden Town with pop-up shops, accelerator programmes, marketplaces and a workspace, as well as providing digital and creative skills training for young people.

From the empty retail unit over that summer of 2009 at the C22 Gallery, Collective has gone on to take over empty shops up and down the high street, as well as Parkway and Camden Road. Notable spaces have included the innovative C37 in a former furniture factory; the creative marketplace at 159 High Street, home to a dozen retailers; and the art deco Temperance Hospital on Hampstead Road, the largest hub so far, where it existed from 2015 to 2017.

159 Marketplace, Camden high St. Photo: PR

Now housed in the Auction Rooms on the corner of Buck Street, Collective is currently home to 130 businesses offering free and subsidised desks and offices. It’s evolved into one of the most successful charity-run workspaces in the capital, providing a launchpad for both award-winning social enterprises and multi-million pound businesses. “It’s a diverse, thriving community where start-ups and small businesses can receive the support and the network to help them grow,” says CEO Simon Pitkeathley, “whatever the sector.”

Whether in food and drink, media, art, videogames, medTech or publishing, Collective has incubated over 400 businesses and pioneers, including the likes of Hinge Health, who have gone on to raise £500million in funding, and SB:TV founder Jamal Edwards, the visionary online youth broadcaster awarded an MBE in 2014.

Auction Rooms. Photo: PR

In 2019 Collective has now raised over £23.6 million in outside investment and created over 300 new jobs. “This hasn’t just been about growing businesses, it’s investing in the wider community,” says Pitkeathley. “To date, Collective businesses have provided 564 days of work experience for local young people, and enabled 150 retailers to set up on the High Street. We’ve transformed 18 spaces, creating nearly £13 million of value in Camden creating jobs, and bringing entrepreneurs back to underused areas.”

Below we speak to an eclectic mix of artists, CEOs and entrepreneurs about how Collective helped them at a crucial stage in their careers.

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Seven Camden Collective Success Stories

Anne Marie Imafidon MBE. Photo: PR

Anne Marie Imafidon MBE, Founder, Stemettes
“We joined Collective back in 2015, when we were based at 37 Camden High Street, and later moved into Collective Temperance. I founded Stemettes because of a problem I noticed in the industry: a drastically sinking number of women in these technical professions. We started in 2013, and our aim has been to inspire the next generation of females into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) roles via a series of events and opportunities, as well as showcasing role models in the industry. Since then, we’ve worked with 40,000 girls across the UK and Ireland – and in 2016 I received an MBE for my commitment to the cause.

“Collective was really supportive right from the start firstly because of the location. We made lots of partnerships where we were based. It was really handy because we had free rent at a time when we were trying to grow, which can be a huge expense. It allowed us to focus on what we were trying to do at a lower cost. On top of that, you could always ask other people for advice in the hub, or go to a lunchtime special to expand your knowledge on topics you’re unsure about.”

Gabriel Shohet, co-founder Black Sheep Coffee
“When we started Black Sheep Coffee, we didn’t have enough money to buy an espresso machine, let alone pay rent for an office. Collective just seemed like a good way to get free office space. It turned out to be a lot more: we made lifetime friends, sharing good times and bad with a bunch of struggling entrepreneurs like us. There are often times when I walk by 159 Camden High Street, I think back to the early days and miss the incredible team of people who supported us at the beginning, and with whom who shared such a difficult but exciting time.”

Myles Calvert, printmaking
Artist Calvert’s major bodies of work references the idolisation of popular British celebrity culture, ‘Jockstraps and Toast’ was a collaborative installation between Calvert and Colin Corbett that occupied one of Collective’s earliest pop-ups. “Collective supported us primarily by giving Colin and I space to explore and develop an exhibition,” he says. “They promoted and supported our ideas, and created a stress-free and eopportunity that was valuable for gaining exposure and getting our names out there. Our installation tied together the obscure, the sexual, the humorous, and the bizarre.” Since then Myles has taught at colleges, and is currently in New York working within the division of Expanded Media at Alfred University.

The team at AccuRx. Photo: PR

Jacob Haddad, Co-Founder, AccuRx
“We founded AccuRx back in 2016, and started out as a team of two at Collective Temperance. Initially, we set out to develop a data-set and tools to help tackle the problem of inappropriate use of antibiotics. Since then, we pivoted to focus on developing a messaging service for doctor surgeries and have subsequently raised £8.8million in Series A funding. Having affordable office space from the get-go has been invaluable. It allowed us to build a culture and work completely collaboratively on our products. We loved the socials (especially Christmas dinner), the variety of other companies in the building, and the ‘Collective’ charm of the office.”

Harriot Pleydell-Bouverie, Founder of Mallow and Marsh
“We love working in the Auction Rooms. Since establishing ourselves at Temperance three years ago, Mallow and Marsh has grown from a small, neatly packaged foodie start-up of five to a now-fifteen person team of passionate marshmallow makers — and we’re still growing. We couldn’t have done all this without the amazing community: affordable and flexible, Collective have not only been supportive in accommodating our rapid growth in numbers but also instrumental in our overall success. We’ve become close to a number of other members working in the same industry as well as other talents in the building — our fantastic new website was designed by a great company we met downstairs. The location’s perfect — we love how we’re able to make the space our own. And what’s more, they host a rocking Christmas party.”

Marine Tanguy, MTArt. Photo: PR

Marine Tanguy, Founder and CEO of MTArt
“Founded in 2015, MTArt Agency is an award-winning agency for the world’s most exciting up and coming visual artists. On average, our artists have seen their works grow 150% in value year-on-year while signed to the agency, and MTArt itself made a profit in 2018. Collective was MTArt’s first home. I still can’t comprehend why more spaces like this do not exist in London. It has given me the confidence to strive, the community to network and do so while relieving me from office costs to support more employees and my artists financially. My job is to invest in people and Collective invested in us; I believe that investing in people has the highest returns if executed well. I will always be here to support Collective and I want to see many more projects like this in the future.”

Heriot Watt University
Since the first Collective pop-up launched back in July 2009, fashion communication students from Heriot Watt University were involved in four different events, based in shops in and around Camden High Street, Chalk Farm Road and Parkway. “The pop-up at C22 provided an excellent opportunity for final year fashion students to take their collections from catwalk to market,” says Heriot Watt’s Programme Director, Theresa Coburn. Students had to manage the practicalities of staffing and running a shop, creating the interior environment and promoting and marketing both the shop and the garments. “It was an invaluable experience that influenced their future careers and one that they would not have been possible without the support of CTU,” ” she adds.

For more on Collective follow @CMDNCollective or check out the website here

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