Network Rail has recently agreed to sell 200 railway arches as a single commercial portfolio. The sale represents the latest in a long line of public asset sell-offs in the UK through which rents are shifted from the public to the private realm. While the details of the sale are still being negotiated, there are grave concerns about the future of thousands of archway enterprises across the country. The potential impacts are particularly acute in East London, where a crisis of affordable workspace more broadly has seen small businesses contend with rent increases of up to 300%. Organised through the East End Trades Guild, local businesses have responded by developing an Affordable Workspace Manifesto, culminating in a campaign for London Working Rent. This campaign raises critical questions about the capacities for collective organisation among diverse enterprises, and the possibilities for applying principles derived from the movements of employees and residential tenants – such as Living Wage and Living Rent – to the commercial rental sector.
This project involves a collaboration between the East End Trades Guild (EETG), the New Economic Foundation (NEF) and the School of Geography at QMUL in order to generate much-needed insight on the possibilities for collective organisation and intervention to maintain affordable workspaces for small and medium enterprises. This research will advance theoretical understandings of socio-economic value and, specifically, inform emerging policy debates on affordable workspaces in the context of the transfer of rents from the public to the private sphere. In this regard, the research will contribute to emerging scholarship on the connections between social entrepreneurship and public life, bringing together research programmes on livelihoods and diverse economies and urban sociality and collective culture.