Community

East End Trades Guild is on a mission to make commercial rent genuinely affordable

Find out how East End Trade Guild plans to revolutionise the commercial rental market through community organising, its new RENTCHECK app and a Community Land Trust.

Community Organiser, Jacquelyn Strey

Waltham Forest’s kaleidoscopic selection of small businesses is what makes the borough such a great place to live and work in. But an unaffordable commercial rental market is putting the borough’s SME community at risk.

Jacquelyn Strey is a Community Organiser for East End Trades Guild, focusing specifically on building business communities in the Waltham Forest area. We caught up with Jacquelyn to find out how the Guild plans to make workspace more affordable for local businesses.

East End Trades Guild is an affiliation of over 400 small businesses and sole traders operating in East London. “You can think of it as a union for your street,” says Jacquelyn.

“We say to small business owners that they’re not alone, because here’s a community of small business owners who are all working towards small business advancement and power dynamic shifts.”

The Guild aims to create interdependent small business communities that benefit everyone. “The way we do that is through a specific methodology called community organising,” Jacquelyn explains. “It’s the same approach that Citizens UK uses.”

Finding affordable workspace is one of the major challenges members face. In an attempt to remedy this, the Guild is working to shift the balance of power away from commercial landlords and more towards small business owners.

Support from the Mayor of London

The Guild met with Sadiq Khan to share its six manifesto “asks” which are informed by the issues its members are facing. The first ask, as you can see in the photo below, is to make commercial rents for small businesses affordable.

East End Trades Guild met with the Mayor of London earlier in 2021.

“One of the things we asked was for the Mayor to agree to allow Transport for London (TfL) to give all their rental information into a publicly held record,” explains Jacquelyn. 

TfL is a significant London landowner and therefore the commercial landlord for many of London’s SMEs. With more transparency around rates, small business owners will know whether or not what their landlord is asking them to pay is the market rate. 

By having the relevant information at their fingertips, small business owners will have more leverage when it comes to negotiating a lower rate. Knowledge is power, after all. 

As part of its push for more transparency around commercial rents, East End Trades Guild is launching its RENTCHECK app in summer.

“It’s an app and web-based tool that will allow small businesses within our network to input their own rental rate, so that if a business has an upcoming review, or if they’re negotiating for a new lease price, they can use the app to find out what the market affordability is.”

Protecting Waltham Forest’s industrial land 

The Guild is also working towards a Community Land Trust (CLT). 

Currently, CLTs are mostly used for residential properties. The land trust purchases the land and the person purchasing a flat on the land only pays for the bricks and mortar of the flat, and not the land price, because the land is held in perpetual affordability.

The land is what’s expensive, adds Jacquelyn, which is why the Blackhorse Road area of Walthamstow is so valuable. Commercial developers may look at it and think they can make lots of money off it if they build flats on it rather than keeping it as industrial space.

“That’s why industrial space is really threatened right now.”

“If we push all our manufacturing outside of London,  what does London become?”

With support from Sadiq Khan, the Guild hopes that TfL will designate some local land as “community land”, and allow the Guild to partner with a developer who will build on the land to create perpetually affordable small business working space. 

Fortunately, the council is also helping to protect the area by designating it as Strategic Industrial Land (SIL). 

“The council is creating a masterplan for the Blackhorse Road industrial area. We know we want to keep it industrial because we can’t continuously let our manufacturing and creative space be taken over by residential space.”

“We have multiple Guild businesses on this industrial estate. If we push all our manufacturing outside of London, what does London become?”

The origins of the East End Trades Guild

East End Trade Guild began its journey in 2010 in Spitalfields, East London. 

Krissie Nicolson is the Guild’s Director. She’d trained as a community organiser and decided to start the organisation after encountering a blog written by the writer, The Gentle Author

At the time, The Gentle Author was writing about a bag company called Gardeners’ Bags. The fifth generation business was being forced out of its space because the commercial rent had increased so much that it was unaffordable.  

Gardeners’ Bags became the Guild’s first member – and has since secured commercial premises on Frances Road in Leyton. 

Since starting out in Spitalfields, East End Trades Guild is now well established in Tower Hamlets and Hackney, and more recently, Waltham Forest, which is home to over 75 Guild members. Jacqueyn points out that a lot of WF’s members used to be based in Hackney but had to move due to rising commercial rents. 

“That move in and of itself is what we’re trying to stop. By designating a CLT, you can create perpetually affordable land where market prices don’t affect the actual price of the space. It allows for a more stable community where people don’t have to continuously move out.”

Creative Works is an East End Trades Guild member.

“Because Waltham Forest is the newest community in the Guild, we’re training leaders to forge relationships with the other businesses on their street. It’s through these relationships that things like the RENTCHECK app will work authentically and transparently.

“We’d love it if RENTCHECK could revolutionise the way in which small businesses interact with their landlord or agreements, but it has to happen organically.”

East End Trade Guild’s RENTCHECK app will launch in June/July 2021.

Jacqueyn Strey – pivoting during a pandemic

Jacquelyn’s own journey is an interesting one. She began working with the Guild earlier in 2021 after plans to move back to the US were put on hold due to the pandemic.

“…I started to look much more closely for roles that would allow me to have an impact and the scope for change at a community level.”

Prior to joining the Guild, Jacquelyn had spent most of her career in academia, having graduated with a PhD in Gender Studies from SOAS in 2019. However, “there was always a tug between academia and activism.”

When Jacquelyn graduated, Gender Studies jobs in Europe were scarce. 

So, Jacquelyn and her husband, who’s British, decided the time had come to move to the US with their daughter. Jacquelyn and her daughter made the move while her husband, who’s an animator, finished a work contract. 

Then the pandemic struck and things didn’t turn out as planned… 

“He came over to visit and left on March 11th. The day after, the travel bans started to be implemented. We didn’t see him until September.

“All the offices were closed, he couldn’t get a green card and I couldn’t get a visa to come back to the UK, so we were stuck in a limbo. During that time, I was living with my best friend and helped him to start a business.

“My mum owned a café, so I’ve been that 13-year-old kid working behind the counter. Small business has always been something that was there but it hasn’t necessarily been central until the pandemic. The capitalist system can feel very cold and extractive in a lot of ways. 

“For me, it’s about figuring out how we can change the system from within and use businesses for good. How do we allow for business diversity and businesses to feel like they’re making a difference within their community? 

“I eventually got my visa to come back to London, putting the US move on hold.

“That’s when I started to look much more closely for roles that would allow me to have an impact and the scope for change at a community level. East End Trades Guild perfectly represents that with RENTCHECK, CLTs, and everything it stands for.

“Business isn’t bad and money isn’t bad – it’s harmful when it becomes extractive, unfair and unjust. And there are things we can do together within the community that can hopefully halt or stop some of those processes.”

Join the Guild for an evening of networking 

Networking is East End Trades Guild’s modus operandi.

“It’s much better if all our networking comes through relationships that are already established. For us, the relationship is the most important thing. People before issues is what we say. It’s the people who make the Guild what it is.”

Curious to find out more about the Guild?

You can meet East End Trades Guild and  some of its members at the upcoming Creative Connections networking event. It’s taking place at Creative Works on June 10, 6pm. 

Network and listen to a selection of Guild members talk about their purpose, passions and products before heading over to a local Blackhorse Lane brewery.

BOOK TICKETS

You can catch up with Jacquelyn at the event or email her at jacquelyn@eastendtradesguild.org.uk for more information. 

7 Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow E17 6DS