Beyond the Pandemic: Camden Collective

Preparing for the future economy.

The story so far

Camden Collective was born from a need to revitalise the High Street after the 2009 financial crash. It began by leasing empty commercial units, turning them into free pop-up shops to give start-ups an invaluable opportunity to test the market and bring life back to the High Street.

C/159, a pop-up market with 16 stalls.

As the High Street vacancy rate started to improve, focus turned towards workspace. Camden Town’s reputation as a habitat for the creative industries was under threat from rising rents, so Collective began to populate any space it could; with the aim of providing free hot desking to local start-ups. Migratory in nature, Collective has occupied 18 buildings since 2009, ranging from single occupier shops to a vacant hospital with room for 500 members. Click here for a map of every Collective location so far.

The smallest (26 Camden High Street) and largest (Temperance Hospital) Collective spaces.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a devastating decline to the High Street — with many calling for action to be taken against what seemed an inevitable loss to super chains and monster malls. The crisis is accelerating changes, what would have happened over the next 10 years will now need to be addressed in the next 10 months. The High Street, alongside local neighbourhoods and towns, requires a shift in approach in order to nurture the creative and entrepreneurial spirit that this country needs — now more than ever.

Collective is leaning on its experience from both phases discussed above and returning to recovery mode. In 2009, Collective was starting from nothing. This time around, it has a decade of experience as well as close ties with the local authority, a compelling reputation for meanwhile use and not to mention a robust track record of delivery.

Since its beginnings, Collective has nurtured 917 new businesses, who have raised a combined total of £25m and created 214 new jobs.

Collective’s outputs, 2009–2020.

The future of Collective

Resetting the High Street…
The COVID-19 crisis is accelerating change on the High Street and the vacancy rate will undoubtedly increase over this time. To help reset the economy, Collective will once again take on vacant High Street units to provide temporary event, pop-up and workspaces. As Collective helps grow new businesses it also attracts new visitors, helping existing businesses and getting the units it occupies back onto the commercial market — a growing wave of renewal.

Collective pop-up retail and event spaces.

A new way of working…
Remote working has been held back by productivity and technology concerns, the pandemic has proven these unfounded. There will be a push for a baseline of remote working, both from the top (to achieve cost-savings by reducing office overheads) and from workers themselves (who won’t accept commuting without good reason). With work location defined by where people live rather than where their employer is based, there will be new demand for local, flexible workspaces.

To help the transition to this new way of working, Collective will extend its offer to employees of larger businesses who live locally; while keeping its core of free workspace for start-ups and social enterprises to maintain its social outputs and the community atmosphere of its workspaces.

Collective’s limiting factor has always been space acquisition, but these changes to the sector will help unlock more. Larger businesses will downsize, whilst smaller ones may forgo a fixed office entirely. Collective is an agile, meanwhile workspace operator with experience of spaces across a range of sizes and conditions. As such, it will be able to make use of any space that becomes non-viable for commercial uses.

This change will cascade through the way cities operate, impacting office space, transport, local services, and housing. There will be a new emphasis on your neighbourhood being where you work, shop, play and live. Collective is ready to help businesses adapt as we move from primary destinations to distributed, ‘15-minute walk’ neighbourhoods.

Hot desking workspace in numerous Collective locations.

A new way of living…
Collective has excelled in temporary spaces and is now working towards a new phase with permanent space; extracting the inherent value of property to provide social benefits. The aftermath of COVID-19 will find the need for affordable housing and flexible workspace greater than ever. This will take the form of C3, a mixed-use development which includes flexible living, working and social space, all governed by Collective’s non-profit model.

Collective space is flexible, born from the need to maximise use in run-down and oddly shaped buildings. C3 will apply this to a permanent building, using the space to full capacity for a myriad of roles and fulfilling the GLA’s High Streets for All vision.

37 Camden High Street had mobile floors and walls, allowing it to fill a variety of roles.

The need for local workspaces associated to new and existing housing opens the potential for more Collective spaces. The large development on the Camden Morrison's site has offered long-term space to Collective. It is ready to work with housing providers to deploy these ‘C3-lite’ spaces throughout Camden, building them into new housing developments, or helping secure and run space for existing ones.

The core of Collective is flexibility, which will continue to be a key asset when responding to this changing landscape. Collective will continue to nurture the creation and growth of start-up businesses; but by doing so can achieve a secondary goal of helping society through the transformation in how we live and work.

Potential progression of Collective.

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Camden Town Unlimited and Euston Town.

Camden Town Unlimited and Euston Town.

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Camden Town Unlimited (CTU) and Euston Town are the elected organisations behind the Camden Green Loop neighbourhood strategy and climate action community.