Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Artworks Elephant, My Space Pod, Charlie Fulford, Sam Minionis, Walworth Road, Heygate Estate

Metal boxes land in Walworth.
The Art of ‘Displacement/Regeneration’. 
Paul Coleman reports.

Walworth's Little Boxes: 
Deal or No Deal? 

Sam Minionis gestures towards a stack of gaudy-coloured 40-foot containers perched on railway sleepers. “They seem bigger inside than outside, just like the Tardis in Doctor Who,” says Minionis (above, right).
 Sceptical local artists and creative designers struggle with Minionis’ vision that they will be able to work and even live in the steel containers.
  “Is the rent affordable?” asks Delia Spatareanu, a portrait and performance art photographer. “And what’s Doctor Who got to do with it?”

Container rent
Minionis explains rents will range from £50 a week for a half-shared container, to £200 for a whole ‘work-stay’ or residential unit.
  Several artists wince when Minionis says these rates exclude electricity and VAT. Southwark Council also plans to charge business rates.
   Stacked on a former Shell petrol station site along the busy arterial Walworth Road, the 48 containers sit adjacent to Swanbourne, one of several decanted Heygate Estate blocks earmarked for demolition. The metal boxes also sit opposite a Grade II listed council office, library and museum badly damaged by fire in March.

Local jobs
Minionis works for My Space Pod that specialises in converting recycled shipping containers into ‘modular accommodation’. He is consultant to ‘The Artworks Elephant’, a new project and company headed by Charlie Fulford.  
   Property developer Fulford (below right, with Minionis) explains Artworks is seeking planning permission from Southwark Council to use the containers to “incubate new arts and creative design businesses and create about one hundred new jobs” with many – hopefully – going to local people in Walworth and Elephant & Castle.
   Fulford says Artworks will develop local businesses, differentiating the Walworth scheme from the containers hosting established brands at Boxpark Shoreditch in east London.

Developer Charlie Fulford (right) with Sam Minionis

Interim uses
Fulford's temporary five-year project is tied in with the much wider demolition and permanent redevelopment of the decanted Heygate council estate by Southwark Council and developer Lend Lease.
   Artworks won a Southwark competition to provide a five-year ‘interim use’ scheme on the former petrol station site.
  Southwark and Lend Lease say ‘interim uses’ could provide ‘early regeneration gains’ for local people in the form of businesses, training and jobs. Once planning consent is secured, Southwark will lease the site to Artworks for up to five years. Fulford hopes to complete construction in August.

Defunct Dutch
Fulford says he bought the containers in Amsterdam from a defunct Dutch student homes project.
  Unlike shipping containers, Fulford says the double-glazed units are “purpose built for accommodation with small kitchens and bathrooms”. Artworks’ proposed development includes a licensed bar and market. The petrol station kiosk could become a café.

"But Del, what the hell are we going to do with forty-eight, forty-foot containers?
- "Mais oui, Rodders, it's all cushty.
We'll plonk them on the Walworth Road and rent them to arty types."
Fulford tries to reassure local residents that a new community of artisans and artists will boost - and not compete with - established local businesses.
  “It’s not an obvious money-spinner for us,” says Fulford. 
  “We’ve risked a lot of money to contribute to the Walworth Road community.”
   Asked if he’s ever succeeded elsewhere with a similar venture, Fulford simply replies: “Never.”

Concerned local residents at a Walworth Society meeting in May quizzed Fulford about the container scheme's viability. Some residents hinted Southwark Council might be hoping to use art and artists via the scheme to render the Heygate 'regeneration' scheme more palatable. 
   Development partners Southwark Council and Lend Lease secured outline planning consent last January to demolish and redevelop the 1970s-built Heygate. 
   Opponents claim the Heygate's 'developer-led regeneration' is forcing local people on low and average incomes to move out of the area.

Lost public homes
Now almost entirely emptied through tenant decanting and compulsory purchase of leaseholders' homes, the Heygate Estate once housed over 3,000 south Londoners. Some 1,200 council homes (subsidised public housing) are being demolished. 
  Lend Lease says its “£1.5 billion Elephant & Castle regeneration scheme will include up to 3,000 new homes by 2025”.
  Southwark Council say “the development will deliver a minimum of 25% affordable homes”. But, currently, only 71 will be social rent (council) homes.

Southwark stoked further controversy earlier this year by unwittingly revealing 'commercially confidential' information that the local authority had sold the publicly-owned and valuable 22-acre Heygate site in central London to Lend Lease for just £50 million.
  Local campaigners say Southwark has spent £44m moving residents out - and that Southwark has sold a much smaller neighbouring site to another developer for £40m.
Southwark Council says it will reap the benefits of a profit-sharing deal with Lend Lease.
  Higher land and rental values, once 'locked in' by the ex-council estate, are now starting to be released. 
Future new homes are now being marketed and offered 'off-plan' to potential buyers and investors.

Strata tower's luxury apartments gaze down on 
Walworth Road's new container architecture.
With thanks to the Walworth Society.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, May 2013

Click on images to enlarge.

Other Threads

• Sam Minionis (below) presented his idea for “demountable and transferable” student and nursing homes in shipping containers to James Caan of Dragons’ Den in 2011. 
Minionis said container homes/units could be built at “around £135 per square foot”.

Sam Minionis of My Space Pod at 'Walworth Quays'
• Visit the Artworks website:  http://www.theartworks-uk.com/

* Tardis = (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space), such as a box bigger inside than on the outside. More popularly known in the UK as a police telephone box converted by BBC TV ‘Time Lord’ Doctor Who into a time travel machine. 

© Words and Photos, Paul Coleman,
London Intelligence, May 2013

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