Fount-LondonProviding 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.

fountlondon.com

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UMM

Life was a beach in August, but not in a particularly positive way. It was one of the wettest on record and it felt like anyone who was considering buying a property had suddenly decided to put their life on hold and head off to foreign climes and sunnier times. And really, who can blame them?

Still, while the streets of London might have emptied of buyers, we were a long way from having nothing to do. Despite running away to the sun, the public seemingly couldn’t give up their passion for property and we were been deluged with new enquiries from people writing to us from their hotel or beach. The phrase ‘getting away from it all’ appears to have taken on a new definition from its earlier use, now simply meaning ‘keep doing everything I always do but from a different place’.

In August it was shell space that took the prize for most-enquired-about-property-type. There is currently a massive appetite among the London buying public for creating individual, unique and personalised spaces. That demand remains pent up for a couple of reasons: first, there simply aren’t enough people selling their home, particularly those of an interestingly converted something-or-other nature; and second, because, although there is a shedload of new property bring built and released for sale, it’s mainly really boring.

The present template is to knock down anything interesting, and replace it with a combination of a residential tower, low rise office space, boutique hotel and a retail piazza. That’s about all the major housebuilders are offering these days and, surprise surprise, creative Londoners just don’t want to buy into what they see becoming another half empty, half rented showpiece of homogeny.

We’ve been banging on about developers creating shell space for years but we can’t seem to convince enough of them to build it. And so those in the mood to create their own space – and, indeed, a community within their building – remain largely unfulfilled, while apartments for investors continue to provide the majority of available stock. Oh well. Perhaps it’s just a phase.

Elsewhere, lettings was as busy as ever, with again too many people chasing too few properties. This recurring scenario, in both the sales and rental markets, is helping to drive people out of London. As technology makes more and more things possible in terms of remote working, and as transport connections between London, the home counties and beyond continue to improve, people are seeing real possibilities in not just having a weekly home-working day, but in changing their lifestyles completely.

Greater affordability outside London, zero or occasional commuting costs and flexible working hours are combining like never before in creating a new generation of workers in almost every sector who almost never need to go to the office. This is kind of good news for everyone; great for cities outside the capital getting more buyers and attention; great for taking some of the frustration out of buying or renting property in London, and great for employers who may well be able to cut down their office space and overheads.

We can testify to that. Despite enquiries being at an all-time high, the amount of people physically walking through our doors is now at an all time low. We actually rather like having an office with a shop front and feeling part of the neighbourhood, but for any company that’s already operating without a presence at street level, the migration of its workers further out of London could signal major changes ahead.

More next month.

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