Monthly Archives: November 2009

New Ideas for an Old Gem – Hackney Empire

I still wonder what’s going to happen to the Hackney Empire.  Here’s the official news on plans for the next 12 months on their website.  I visited the Empire in September during the Open House London event.  What a grand old theatre – and they did a great job with the refurbishment, adding some contemporary studios and new signage on the corner of Mare Street and Wilton Way.  It’s a great co-mingling of old and new.

The thing is, the Hackney Empire has a lot of potential.  That section of Mare Street could be Hackney’s true centre, a real hub of activity.  Hackney Empire could be its centrepiece.  It could be the premier live entertainment venue of the area.  With connections to north London and Stratford along the Overground line, connections to Liverpool Street, and the future East London line connecting it to the south, it has great transportation links.  The Hackney Empire has showcased comedy and a variety of other theatrical performances.  Could it also be a venue used for education and training in the performing arts – for amateur orchestras and bands?  Could it hold workshops for people to improve their public speaking skills through comedy and drama?  I think this would be a great opportunity.  Instead of sitting around listening to other inspiring people talk (I’ve been doing a lot of that – TED.com, free talks at the London School of Economics), maybe more places should hosting, teaching, and training to be inspirational when they speak.  More education, training people to express themselves creatively and speak up – that’s a ticket to a promising future.

Music from the Penguin Café Orchestra

Another example of strange timing…  I had been listening to a lot of Penguin Café Orchestra lately.  I had purchased an album in 2008 through Rough Trade’s Album Club and also had a copy of another PCO track that appeared on a compilation – Perpetuum Mobile, which to me conjures images of running in the autumn, past trees and their leaves of gold and red.  The opening piano solo is like the runner putting on her shoes, lacing them up, getting ready to go.  The run is steady and determined, but not without noticing the beauty of nature that the runner passes by.  As the strings enter, the pace urges the runner up a hill and returns to steadier terrain.  Such is the beauty of music from the Penguin Café Orchestra.  I had wondered if the orchestra was still together and if it performed live.  Last Tuesday I did a quick internet search and found that Arthur Jeffes had reformed the orchestra and was touring this year.  Their last concert of 2009 would be on 29 November at Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London.  Just in time!

The concert last night, in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust, was amazing.  Nine musicians gathered on the small stage at the end of the glorious music hall – full string quartet, two musicians on ukelele, percussionist, harmonium player, and Arthur on piano.  The orchestra’s friends and family were in the audience and it felt like we had been invited to a very special and intimate gig.  The audience was warm and receiving, although the hum of people chatting at the back of the hall could be heard.  A very loud “shhh” could be heard (how ironic!) to try to quiet them down, but in my opinion it didn’t detract from the jovial, musical atmosphere.  PCO played with enthusiasm in the faces and bodies – they looked like they really enjoyed themselves, it mattered less about the ambient noise in the room.  The spirited rounds of applause after Penguin Café Single, Music for a Found Harmonium, and Perpetuum Mobile seemed to simply be a bonus.  The softer Finland featuring Arthur on piano and Rebecca Waterworth on cello was respectfully acknowledged by a quieted crowd.  New pieces, composed by Arthur, such as Ghost in the Pond were cheered, signalling an acceptance by the audience of a new generation of PCO.  The evening closed with Harry Piers, a piano solo written for his dad and PCO founder Simon Jeffes, who passed away in 1997.

Bush Hall is an amazing little venue in West London, if you haven’t been already.  It was built as a dance hall in 1905 and had been re-incarnated as a bingo hall in the 1940s then a snooker hall in the 1980s and 90s.  In 2001, the hall was purchased by Emma Hutchinson and Charlie Raworth, who refurbished it into the beautiful music hall and events venue it is today.  Bush Hall has hosted an amazing array of new talent as well as established artists.  Check out their website, especially their photos.

The evening, whilst filled with exciting, emotional music, was quite moving on many levels.  It demonstrates to me that good things live on.  They must evolve with changing times, but when there is something core and good, it doesn’t disappear forever, as long as there is someone to notice and nuture it back to life.  There’s a good article on the Arts Desk about the second incarnation of the Penguin Café Orchestra – have a read here for more information.

Affordable, Sustainable Buildings in London

How can we create nice communities to live in, with affordable, sustainable buildings?

We’re limited on space here.  So one solution had been to build tall and London saw the rise of tower blocks.  These tall apartment buildings don’t seem to have a lot of fans.  The funny thing is, a lot of these buildings would be perfectly fine in a city like Toronto.  They would be privately managed, well maintained, there would be a mix of income types, families, and individuals choosing to live in them.  Why doesn’t it work so well here?

There is still a shortage of affordable, sustainable housing in London.  How do we find the solution to this?  How do we build affordable, sustainable buildings?  Answers on postcard please – for your convenience, that means please leave a comment below.

What’s New?

I went along to the Olympic Park consultation at Forman’s fish factory (appropriately situated on Fish Island, Hackney Wick).  The Forman factory sits grandly along one of the Lea Navigation canals and has a grand, unencumbered view of the Olympic Stadium.  Better pedestrian connections, bridges, pavements, and cycle paths are planned to link Hackney Wick, across the Olympic Park to Leyton, the Greenway should hopefully provide a route from Victoria Park all the way to West Ham?  Basically the plans are the give new life to the canal system and park eco-system, in particular replacing a lot of the paved bits that will be necessarily for moving people around the area during the Olympic Games.  Tarmac, massive bridges, perimeter fencing, accreditation areas (that fancy-speak for ticketed entrances) – they’ve all got to go post-games to make way for park areas, trees, and the like.  Some of the decommissioned parts will become development opportunities and will be handed over to the Olympic Park Legacy Company in 2014.  In fact the parklands won’t be fully accessible until 2014.  I suggested, to avoid having the Olympic Park remain a construction site post-games, in addition to the remaining sports venues being the focus and the main draw, these areas could be developed with temporary artists’ studios, art spaces, pop-up shops, restaurants and cafés to encourage and house creative ventures.  What better way than to keep the local artists engaged and make good use of space – provided that it’s made available at a reasonable, affordable rate.

I’m also very keen to see real estate used more cleverly for small businesses or groups oozing of creativity, culture and innovation.  Creative, innovative people need a place to work in, don’t they?  How could real estate be used more creatively?  More pop-up opportunities?  Flexible space?  Combined uses – much like cafés in retail shops, but how about a more integrated approach.  Or restaurant as product – like the Flash pop-up restaurant at the Royal Academy where the tableware was available for purchase after the pop-up restaurant finished its run?  Music stores are being used as live music venues, bars as places to display art.  How else can property genres be combined to make best use of space???  Answers on a postcard please.  Please leave a comment below.

Sustainability in Business

I read two articles that signal more long-term thinking, which in my mind equals greater sustainability. They are not new ideas, but rather reminders that are reflective a potential shift that may be happening in today’s markets, businesses, and in people’s consciousness. Both ideas involve setting aside money periodically (let’s say each month) to help fund a goal.

Andrew Winston’s article on the Harvard Business Publishing website suggests that companies set aside funds to finance green initiatives and green improvements to their businesses. I am interested in real estate, sustainable development, and eco-refurbishment and have often thought that making energy efficient improvements to an existing building was necessary to avoid obsolescence. I believe that one day, installing timers and sensors for lighting, ground source heating and cooling systems, and renewable energy sources (solar panels, wind turbines) would become as necessary as repairing broken windows or a hole in the roof. That day is now. I am still told by business and property owners that sustainable methods and reco-refurbishment is expensive, but I am hearing this less often. Andrew Winston suggests something obvious – set money aside from periodic cashflows to fund green capital expenditure – save for the long-term.

I read a post on Seth Godin’s blog about an for funding new business ventures or business growth. He highlights the need for an investment exit strategy (for private equity investors, the strategy was typically grow the business then sell to a bigger business in the same industry or list the private company on a quoted stock exchange) created an inherently short-termist perspective on growing entrepreneurial businesses (investments typically spanned 3-5 years). Sourcing debt financing was also problematic as banks prefer safe investments with risks mitigated – not typically characterised by innovative businesses with new ideas. His suggested alternative was to return a portion of sales or profits over time and quite possibly into infinity. This is the good old-fashioned royalty income model, but it makes sense and encourages a longer-term relationship rather than a quick-in, quick-out investment approach.

The fast dash for cash and short term incentives characterising the first half of this decade has undoubtedly caused distress in the economy and amongst businesses and individuals. Sustainability isn’t just about the environment, it is about everything that we do including our communities, how we source funding, and how we maintain and grow our businesses. Isn’t it about time we start thinking long-term?

I originally wrote this article for the Blog Paper.  The concept of saving periodically to fund the greening of a business over time fit well on my blog.  The concept of royalty income or income sharing as a way of incentivising investors is a good example of sustainable finance, so I have also posted this article on Composition Advisory’s website.

Redefinition: the Pub

I’m starting a new series of posts – REDEFINITION.  Everyday our environments are changing and how we live, work, and play is changing.  And so the way we use space is changing too.

This first post of the series considers how the pub is changing.  Pub is short for public house and historically, it was a gathering place in a community, where patrons could buy and drink alcohol, meet and share news.  Pubs have been evolving over the years – with many closures (demolished or converted into flats or other commercial premises) or conversions into gastropubs with a greater focus on food rather than drink.  Pubs have to compete with cocktail bars, speciality bars, and themed bars, which had become more prominent since the late 1990s.  The smoking ban has also led to the pub losing some of its appeal.  But we still like to have places in the community where we can meet and socialise.  What might a new pub look like?  How might we redefine the pub?  Is it no longer a drink and alcohol-centric place?  Is it a large, open place or something smaller, cosier, more intimate?  Do you sit, do you stand?  Who do you meet in the new pub?  Who do you talk to?  What do you do in the new public house?

No holds barred, please.  I’m interested in creative, innovative ideas as to what a public house of the future, a community gathering place might be.  Please add your comments here.

Another Construction Site in Bow: Safeway, Roman Road

The diggers were out on Roman Road last week.  Behind the blue hoarding, nestled amongst Gladstone Place, Cardigan Road and Anglo Road, the former Safeway in Bow was leveled, in anticipation of the new Tesco Metro development.  Judging by the planning applications, this one appears to be predominantly a residential development, with some commercial space, but is anchored by the Tesco.

Whilst on the DLR yesterday, travelling from Bow Church to Canary Wharf, I noticed another development of flats in the distance, with the requisite Tesco Metro on the ground floor.  Turns out that one is Berkeley Homes’ Caspian Wharf on Violet Road.  Sure, Tesco is handy and I do admit to doing my shopping there sometimes out of convenience.  But I also sometimes shop at the Chinese food shop across the road from Bow Road tube station (Fine Food, 61 Bow Road), at Waitrose in Canary Wharf, at Borough Market, and any other shop that is convenient and stocks what I’m looking for.    Out of curiosity – what do you think about having a Tesco Metro or any other high street supermarket in your neighbourhood?