Summer 2022 cohort © Saira Hospitality
From showroom to classroom, this case study tells the story of how a collective of landowners in East London endeavours to heal the scars of gentrification.
Redchurch Street in East London is perhaps best known as a destination for trendy shops and lavish restaurants. The 350-metre stretch is home to shops such as Aesop and Sunspel, hospitality operator Soho House, and many creative industry businesses. In 2016, fashion magazine Vogue even dubbed it a ‘design lover’s dream come true’. While this image may attract certain visitors, it has also created an affordability barrier to entry that is acutely felt within the street’s neighbouring communities.
While the challenges associated with Redchurch Street’s gentrification have been visible for some time, COVID-19 really brought its unsustainable nature to the fore. Between empty units and decidedly un-local shopping outlets, it became clear that to survive, the street was in dire need of diversification.
With a mission to work in partnership with residents and local businesses to retain the competitive advantage and resilience of the street, a ‘coalition of willing’ landlords came together in 2019 to form the NFP OnRedchurch Community Interest Company (CIC).
Today, OnRedchurch CIC collaborates with all the street’s stakeholders to create a more welcoming and meaningful experience for everyone. By championing open communities – greater integration, access to, and public use of, private space – they seek to grow social trust and leverage economic benefit for the entire neighbourhood.
One recent initiative involves the temporary takeover of a large, empty retail space by Saira Hospitality.
Saira Hospitality is a social enterprise set up to ‘transform the way hotels connect with local communities through education’. Working across the world, the organisation partners with hotels to create pop-up schools to help local people build a career in hospitality. OnRedchurch CIC was introduced to Saira through a private networking event, sparking a mutual desire to bring the initiative to the East London street.
With the help of grant funding and annual landowner contributions, OnRedchurch CIC provided financial support (£11,000) for Saira Hospitality to kickstart the project.
Over the next year, Saira worked on partnership building with local hotels and employment centres to pair up the need for talented staff with job-seeking candidates. Offering a solution to the significant labour shortages that have challenged the industry since Brexit and COVID-19, Saira brought on board the necessary employer partners and programme sponsors, which included The Hoxton, Nobu Hotel London Portman Square, The Montcalm, and Town Hall Hotel.
Meanwhile, OnRedchurch CIC was on the hunt for a suitable space to host the pop-up school. After three unsuccessful bids, they finally hit the mark with a Derwent-owned space in the iconic Tea Building, leased to architecture and interior design practice Buckley Gray Yeoman.
Taking the necessary measures to pause planned refurbishment works, Buckley Gray Yeomen let Saira Hospitality take over the sizeable space for free for the six-week duration of the course.
And so it came to pass that between May and July 2022, over 60 students were invited to enrol in Saira Hospitality’s ‘soft skills’ training programme delivered on Redchurch Street, next to high-end shops, boutique cafes, and several Vogue-worthy venues. Furthermore, given the clear ambition to provide opportunities for local and disadvantaged communities, participants were mostly female, Tower Hamlet residents, and long-term unemployed.
The success of the project speaks for itself. Of 60 participants, 40 have since been placed in work with a further 15 interviewing for new jobs, fulfilling the programme’s aim of supporting candidates to progress a career in the hospitality industry. The employer partners were, of course, given first pick of the freshly minted graduates.
Some lessons learned
- Diverse streets that cater to a varied user base are more resilient than monofunctional places, but diversity may not always appear organically when market forces are at work.
- High streets need to play a more meaningful role in people’s daily lives, integrating job opportunities with learning, retail and leisure; when a place loses touch with its local community, it risks cutting off the lifeblood that will sustain it in the long run.
- Every empty unit is an opportunity to improve the overall diversity of a high street; when many landlords come together, it increases their ability to assemble a destination that is greater than the sum of its parts.
- Employer partners are key to the successful definition and delivery of skills training programmes; by connecting jobs and training, everyone wins.
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