Providing a welcoming restaurant that encourages laptopping freelancers, setting up a nursery to look after children, promoting local designers with affordable retail space and lobbying the council to keep down rents for independent businesses might seem like the work of a bunch of community-minded organisations. But the work of a single person? Surely not!
Well, yes. Sort of.
Actually, Fount London – based in three railway arches in Westgate Street, London Fields – is the brainchild of a pair of local mums, Rachel Munro-Peebles and Elena Mackey. The nursery is run by Elena, while Rachel looks after the tenants that rent the retail and restaurant space.
A quick glance at the photos shows that Fount Nursery is no ordinary kindergarten. Eschewing the standard bright plastic everything in favour of vintage furniture and wooden toys, the place reflects rather accurately the likely domestic environment of most people dropping their children off here. A home from home, instead of an easy-wipe detention centre. So, with the kids taken care of, what’s all this about nurturing adults?
As Rachel explains: “Lots of East End parents are freelancers, run their own businesses and need childcare a couple of days a week. They work from restaurants and [using the flexibility in their day] pick up something for the house, or a birthday.” But that’s only one side of the story; it’s not just about getting parents shopping.
In fact, Fount London’s retail space is an exercise in helping up-and-coming family-geared businesses get on their feet, with costs designed around what’s affordable for them. The choice of whether to accept a tenant hinges on whether they’d be a good fit to the neighbourhood, and not on how much money they’ve got. No, you’re not dreaming. Keep reading.
Already part of the fold at Fount London are kids brands Maiden, Molly Meg and Dandy Star, while the project is given a dash of glitz from West London’s already established Marie Chantal, here opening their first East End outlet – they can afford to pay more, and are happy to do so, which in turn funds lower costs for budget-conscious startups and delivers an eclectic range of businesses at different stages of growth. More fun for everyone.
Finally, food. Il Cudega is the freelancer-friendly eatery and is London’s first restaurant specialising in Lombardy cooking, from the region around Milan. This place, too, is founded on charitable notions. 20% of the profit from their crowd funding campaign is going into setting up La Confraternita del Cudega, which, along with cultural events and exhibitions, plans to “advance the education of local children and young people in the East End of London in relation to food and gastronomy in general, by providing classes on how to grow, taste and cook food”. On top of that, 10% of their ongoing profits will go to East London charities.
The whole setup here is based around community, and Rachel’s approach as a landlord to renting out retail space is refreshing. She wants independent businesses to thrive, and she puts their survival above eking out every last possible penny from them, using her position to empower other businesses wherever and whenever she can. Could this be the future of commercial property in London? Landlords discovering the concept of “enough”?
Only time will tell.