Addressing an audience at this week’s London Real Estate Forum, Al Parra, described the vision that underpins Building BloQs. Addressing City Hall directly, he urged that more support and creative thinking be deployed so organisations like ours can continue to grow; to support innovation and to champion urban manufacturing.
Back in 2012, Al Parra was one of a group of friends who were pushed out of their live/work space; victims of London’s rising rents. They found a space, and opened Building BloQs’ London workshop later that year.
It was a project born of necessity, “an entirely self-seeded solution made by makers for makers,” as Al explained to the LREF audience, “a place where we can mix and find each other and flourish.”
Five years after our doors opened, Building BloQs is today buzzing with talented makers and professional standard machinery. The community, the equipment, the people, the learning environment - there’s many progressive things happening in our big orange shed.
But the heart of BloQs’ mission, and the crux of Al’s talk at the LREF, is that although we’re filling a gap in the market we’d prefer wasn’t there, we are here. We are here and we are viable - and we cannot be dismissed as a stopgap solution.
From woodworkers to blacksmiths to textile workers, set-designers and metalworkers, those who choose to work with their hands have, in 2017, been forced to adapt and move with the times. That means compromise and it means moving out to the city’s periphery.
Despite the progress of facilities like Building BloQs, some urban planners seem to want to file us in the ‘Meanwhile’ category: part of a regeneration strategy, a stopgap, a temporary fix.
Al addressed that notion head on, asserting to the LREF audience that Building BloQs is not only a facilitator of progress. It is a blueprint for the future.
“We aren’t about meanwhile. Workshop spaces need to be removed from that kind of thinking”, he said. “We’re growing quickly and we’re growing organically. It is really important that we don’t become part of the Hackney Wick experience - creating life, community and vitality only to gut the area once property values rise.”
At Building BloQs we don’t see ourselves as a meanwhile solution. We’re not a holding pen while tinkerers dream up something new. As Al told LREF, BloQs is a new kind of factory for a new day, it’s a space for innovation and to help usher in the city’s next phase.
“A top-down approach will not work,” he said. “There are solutions on the ground, now, there are people working in our workshops voting with their healthy P&L sheets.
“If our city has a robust network of workspaces and makers, we’ll have the raw materials for a successful future.
In February this year, London Mayor Sadiq Kahn came to BloQs and praised the great work we’re doing. We enjoyed hosting him and showing him the day-to-day of a busy London workshop space. But there’s a serious mission at play.
“Building BloQs is a special case,” said Al. “It provides for the needs of the individual maker. Our mission is to put kit that is usually available only to corporate institutions in the hands of individual makers and SMEs.
“We believe in redistributed manufacturing - it is the future. And our new facility is there to develop skills training because makers are the coral on which our making industries flourish.”
The message is that London, once again, needs to work for makers and those who aspire to make. We need a workshop model that provides adequate space and resources on a new plain so untapped talent can surface and make their mark. We need a model that facilitates and promotes the collaboration and the innovation on which the future will be built.
We advocate the Building BloQs solution. And it’s not purely out of self-interest, nostalgia, altruism or loyalty to makers. The economic results are robust.
Makers make a living here. They pump revenues back into supply and service in the local area. Incomes go towards tax and back into the communities makers live and make home. Members who work at Building BloQs earn anything between £20,000 and £120,000 per annum - and our membership is growing.
Not only are makers, innovators, creatives and new-starters able to ply trades here, they’re able to make a stable living and contribute to the pot.
Socially, culturally, historically and economically, manufacturing makes everybody richer. Al Parra and Building BloQs have found a formula to preserve it for a new day - so let’s make it work.