Railway arches: a lifeline for small-scale firms in London?
Francesca Froy carried out a review of railway arches as productive spaces 'on the margins' in London, with case studies in Hackney, Bethnal Green and Bermondsey as part of a research project with the Bartlett School of Architecture in 2013. It was identified that railway arches operate as 'industrial streets', promoting communication between small businesses, and therefore helping to promote cooperation and innovation. At the same time, arches present highly adaptable spaces with interiors that businesses can design to meet their own needs. Within the same set of arches it is possible to find cafés, shops, manufacturing spaces (e.g. for cheese maturing, beer brewing, metal working or gin making), retail and storage. Such mutable spaces promote flexible ways of working which are particularly relevant to today's economy, where the boundaries between production, retail and wholesaling are increasingly blurred. At the same time because the arches in London are managed by transport companies Network Rail and Transport for London they offer cheaper than market rents, which enables small businesses to find a foothold within an increasingly competitive property market. Local authorities are beginning to catch on to their potential, with Hackney taking a long lease on a set of arches at Morning Lane to develop a new fashion design and retail hub, and Southwark Council promoting the use of local arches to promote a new borough focus on arts, craft and technology. However the research project found that more could be done to promote the arches as potential incubators for start up firms in the city.
For more information, see: https://understandingspace.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/railway-arches-a-lifeline-for-enterprise-in-london/