by Ben Van der Velde
Last week the Green Party organised a meeting for me with Simon Pitkeathley, the Chief Executive of an amazing organisation called Camden Collective. Meeting him and being invited around the various properties run by his initiative was one of the most cheering experiences I’ve had in a long time. The mainstream news and parties in government seem to be stuck on a narrative of austerity and a lack of imagination or innovation within the country. What Simon showed me suggests something quite different.
Anyone who lives in Camden Town will know that the centre part of it has a very divided feel. To the right of the station you have the colourful carnival of markets, global food stalls, tourist tat and genuinely creative independent artist stalls. To the left it is a more dreary affair: with the odd exception the strip between Camden Town station and Mornington Crescent is an identikit British high street of uniformity and drabness. Chain stores, betting shops and, most upsettingly, empty shop fronts. But that might be about to change. In a previously empty property next to Pret A Manger Simon has opened up The Camden Collective – a multi-purpose shop floor where he allows small businesses to trade for two weeks at a time to find out if their idea has legs and to gain all sorts of useful experiences and contacts that can help them grow. The inside is made almost entirely from reclaimed material and even when I visited it at 10:30am it at an atmosphere of quiet industry pervaded, amongst the cake-sellers, dress makers and pottery-moulders.
Even more excitingly, this isn’t the Collective’s only property. As well as using the top floor space above 159 Camden High Street as office space for various new companies specialising in a hugely diverse range of fields, they also use a property further down the high street. Down an anonymous back lane and above a gallery is one of Camden Collective’s Hubs. A place where innovators in software for Google Glasses rub shoulders with designers sat at sowing machines. Yet again, this is a place where Simon’s organisation offers space to young businessmen and women for free, in order for them to focus all their energies on their ideas, rather than worrying about high rent and rates costs that could hamstring a potentially brilliant concept at an early stage. More importantly, this idea of shared workspace and giving people room to fail and learn from their mistakes is key. Anyone working in creative industries will tell you that the best ideas often come when they’re having a chat in the kitchen of a friend working in a completely different sphere and the Collective’s hubs are designed so that these sort of happily accidental pieces of cross-pollination will occur.
Read Ben’s full blog here