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Blackwall: How The Greenhouse offers space and community to support startups

Joint project by The Trampery, Trilogy Real Estate and UWS is based at Republic in east London

Ahmet Emin Hondor wants to welcome more businesses to The Greenhous
Ahmet Emin Hondor wants to welcome more businesses to The Greenhouse- image Matt Grayson

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Nurturing young plants requires warmth, water and good quality soil to help them put down roots. That’s why so many seedlings thrive under glass in gardens up and down the country.

The Greenhouse At Republic in some senses does the same job, but it’s startup businesses being propagated rather than seedlings.

Located on the ground floor of the Export Building, the facility is a joint project between Trilogy Real Estate – the developer behind the whole Republic regeneration project – the University Of The West Of Scotland (UWS), which has a campus on-site and The Trampery.

The latter, which describes itself as “a purpose-led enterprise dedicated to making business a positive force in society”, operates  the facility, providing workspace for early-stage entrepreneurs and startups.

The Greenhouse aims to support local residents, Republic tenants, graduates of UWS and businesses seeking to have a beneficial impact on the world around them.

“Our main mission is to provide the workspaces as well as access to our network,” said Ahmet Emin Hondor, partnerships manager at The Trampery, who looks after the facility.

“We really value that connection because it creates a big synergy between different communities.

“Quite often we have very like-minded people, who care about the environment and social issues.

“They have purposes in their businesses and these have a social impact. 

“The more we have this, the more businesses like this come to us. That’s really valuable because people collaborate with each other.

“For example, if I have a charity in need of a creative service, we open that network to them and help them collaborate. 

“We also run programmes throughout the year to give the organisations based here what they need, and to introduce them to professionals who can support them.

“We have quite a range based here now – we have a lot of early stage entrepreneurs, but the industries are quite different.

“We have charities, a mental health app, a couple of marketing agencies, an organisation that’s aiming to save our soil, a couple of cosmetic brands who decided to create their own products because they couldn’t find what they were looking for in the market and a South African street food company.”

The Greenhouse At Republic offers flexible workspace
The Greenhouse At Republic offers flexible workspace – image Matt Grayson

Originally from Istanbul, Ahmet himself arrived at The Trampery via a career that’s seen him work in fashion, marketing, communications, consultancy and events.

“I decided I wanted to do something that would bring all those things together and that’s why I’m here,” he said.

“The Trampery is a very diverse organisation and it ticked a lot of boxes for me – I wanted to be a part of it. 

“Since I’ve joined I’m even happier, because it’s an organisation that really cares about people and giving back – that’s one of its priorities at all times.”

Those interested in taking up space at The Greenhouse fill out an enquiry form with The Trampery, which also runs workspaces at multiple locations including Old Street, Poplar and Hackney Wick. 

“We then follow up with applicants and find out all about their needs because they may be more relevant to a specific operation,” said Ahmet.

“If The Greenhouse is the right place for them, for example, then we invite them over here to give them a tour so they can grasp what we’re doing and understand the campus – we offer a lot of things here, it’s not just about the space itself.

“That also gives us an opportunity to have a chat with them and, quite often, after that, they become members.

“There are several different ways to join, of course, and we sometimes have people relocate from different sites.

“We also run incubator projects with UWS for students who are building their own businesses.

The facility includes a kitchen and breakout spaces
The facility includes a kitchen and breakout spaces – image Matt Grayson

“We have a few at The Greenhouse who are about to finish their studies and who are already starting on their business ideas.

“It’s very important to us that we can help these people connect to other businesses in our network who can help them thrive – lots of entrepreneurs will encounter the same problems and they can get help from each other in how to overcome them.

“People can share their experiences, their networks and their supply chains and benefit from each other’s deals where individuals might be lacking know-how.

“The differentiating factor at The Greenhouse compared to our other sites is the partnership with UWS and Trilogy, which brings with it a bigger network.

“When people join, however, they get access to our network and events across all of our sites including our second location at Republic.”

The Greenhouse is especially keen to hear from locally based businesses and entrepreneurs in Blackwall, Poplar and the surrounding areas.

A range of membership options are available including hot desk, fixed desk and Trampery Flex.

Suitable for businesses in the creative, retail, marketing, fashion, finance and social impact sectors, facilities include high speed internet, a members lounge, break-out areas, a library and a quiet space as well as complimentary bike hire, showers, changing facilities and unlimited tea and coffee.

Prices start at £110+VAT for Monday and Friday access. Fixed desks are £250+VAT.

Anne-Marie Payne of Chair Disco Collective
Anne-Marie Payne of Chair Disco Collective – image Matt Grayson

CASE STUDY: CHAIR DISCO COLLECTIVE

On Fridays we host an over-50s chair rave at a beautiful church in Hackney Wick with lots of people in wheelchairs and the Outward Housing Hub Club which bring neuro-diverse people who may be on the autism spectrum,” said Chair Disco Collective founder Anne-Marie Payne.

“Right now we’re opening with a Lizzo medley including her latest track About Damn Time.”

The Poplar resident created her exercise class concept back in 2017 and has since moved to running the operation as a collective with an emphasis on social engagement  and community building.

Having won a competition, the organisation is now based 15 minutes from her home at The Greenhouse as it continues to develop its chair-based exercise activities.

“I realised what was needed was new music,” said Anne-Marie. “So I put it to the test and that’s how we built this new way of exercising with a new spirit.

We put in bids for funding so we’re able to offer sessions free to inactive members of the community. 

“I was looking for a workspace because, after the pandemic, my main hustle shut down its office.

As a single mum, working from home in a tower block with no garden and not enough bedrooms, was hell on Earth.

“I was lucky enough to win a competition for space here and I love the vibe. I think of it as working-near-home because it’s close enough to pop back in an emergency.

“Right now we’re figuring out what our ambition is for the collective and whether we can run it as a social enterprise so paid-for sessions pay for free classes for those who need it.

“You’d be absolutely amazed how much people can benefit.

You can pretty much move all your joints from a chair and, when you’re really raving you can really boost your heart rate.

Read more: How Crossrail is transformative for Excel and London

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Fish Island: How Rewritten rewrote the rules on sustainable bridesmaids’ dresses

Katie Arnott and Fran Cookson started their brand, which now offers a bridal collection too

Rewritten founders Fran and Katie
Rewritten founders Fran, left, and Katie – image Matt Grayson

The story of Rewritten has, at its heart, a friendship. Katie Arnott had been working at then emerging jewellery brand Astley Clarke for about four years when she was assigned as a buddy to incoming head of communications Fran Cookson.

Despite being in different teams, the pair worked closely, becoming good friends over the next four years when one night, over several glasses of wine, inspiration struck.

“We were both getting married and we couldn’t find nice, cool, contemporary bridesmaids’ dresses for adults,” said Fran.

“We’d asked our friends where they’d been shopping for them and were told there were only traditional, old-fashioned shops – we saw this gap in the market and decided to launch a bridesmaid’s dress brand.

“We always knew we wanted to do our own thing and between us we thought we had the right skill set. Katie understood retail and operations and I had a background in fashion design as well as marketing.

“We put a business plan together and approached Virgin for a business startup loan in 2016 and that’s how we founded Rewritten.”

startup

“We’ve nearly finished paying back that loan,” said Katie. “Applying for it was really good for us because we had no idea what we were doing at all. 

“We’d never started a business so we didn’t have a clue how to write a plan for one. Doing that really forced us to sit down and look at so many different aspects of the company. 

“We put this huge document together, applied and got accepted straight away. Virgin has been very supportive over the years. We have often gone back and done talks there because they have lots of entrepreneurs and startups going though their programme.”

Rewritten Bridesmaid
Brookyln Dress in Olive Green, £140

styles

“We started with four colours and four styles, and now we have around 14 colours and 10-12 styles,” said Fran who designs Rewritten’s products.

“We’ve grown quite a lot as a brand and we have a wholesale channel as well, so we have stockists around the UK and internationally.

“We sell mainly through our showroom appointments and we’re fully booked until August as well as selling a lot online.

“We’re quite a disruptive brand, in that we were really the first ones to do a wide range of colours and sizes and styles available digitally, which wasn’t really a thing before in this market. 

“The bridal industry is very old fashioned although it is changing. Traditionally bridesmaids’ dresses would be very generic and really expensive – £300 per dress – that’s a huge amount of money if you have eight to buy. 

“Many were prom-style – it was almost a joke category and that’s what we wanted to change.

“The question we ask is: ‘Why can’t you wear a really cool dress or a jumpsuit as a bridesmaid – something that you could potentially wear again?’. We call it sustainable bridesmaid-wear – the idea is that this no longer a ‘single use’ industry.

“Women’s fashion is one of the biggest environmental offenders and bridesmaids’ dresses are a big part of that – they’re relegated to the back of the wardrobe and we wanted to change that, making pieces you want to buy and wear, whether that’s different styles in the same colour or the same dress in a wide range of sizes. 

“When we started, this approach didn’t even exist and people really enjoyed that autonomy rather than being told they had to wear a horrible dress.”

Rewritten Bridesmaids
Rewritten can provide different dresses in identical colours

showroom

Having originally opened its doors in Tottenham, the brand has relocated to Fish Island in Hackney Wick, with premises that cater for its shipping operations and, crucially, customers who want to try dresses on.

“We make the whole thing really special with private fitting appointments and we open at the weekends too,” said Fran.

“People can come in as a group, have a glass of Prosecco and it’s a really lovely experience.

“It’s our clients with their mates having a trying on session – and our frosted glass makes it very private. Hackney Wick is such a cool area, with all the bars and restaurants around here – we have a blog on our website that tells visitors where the best places to go for brunch or a drink are and people really make a day of it.”

sustainability

Katie said: “We’re trying to change the preconception that weddings are about single-use fashion. Our brand is about rewriting the rules.

“We had to apply for our space at The Trampery in Fish Island – they were looking for sustainable fashion brands and we are one of the six founder members here. 

“We’re not saying we’re perfect but we’re really striving to make a lot of changes, using recycled fabrics and making a lot of the collection in London as well as only making dresses when people order them which is a sustainable way of manufacturing.”

Rewritten Bridal
Rewritten’s bridal collection includes Simone Dress, £575

spreading

Rewritten recently launched its first bridal collection, made entirely from organic and recycled fabrics in response to demand from fans of the pieces in its core collection.

“We’re quite a London-centric brand at present so we’d like to become a lot bigger in the UK,” said Fran. “We’ve been looking at Manchester and we also have a lot of Irish brides, so Dublin could be an option too.

“In terms of sustainability we want to have the whole collection made in recycled fabrics by the beginning of 2023 and that’s partly about changing people’s mindsets about what that means, educating our customers. Our bridal collection really shows that – it’s affordable and the dresses could really be worn again.”

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