Citizen round table
The panel: Alex Nicholson, Endeavour Ventures; Arthur Kay, Skyroom; Amy Zamarripa Solis, Foundation for Future London; Digby Summerhill, Minotti London; Sahil Sachdev, Founders Factory; Isabel Allen, Editor-in-Chief, Citizen Magazine; Soheb Panja, Co-Founder, courier Magazine; Suzanne Trocmé, Editor-at-Large, Wallpaper* Magazine
Friday Saturday Sunday
Three architects from different faiths – Daniel Leon, Matthew Lloyd and Shahed Saleem – have joined forces to design a shared place of worship that serves as a mosque on Friday, a synagogue on Saturday and a church on Sunday
Daniel Leon: When we first met we started to talk about London and the way that mosques or churches or synagogues are very much underused. As a group of architects we never really understood each other’s spaces of worship, yet there are huge similarities. Brick Lane Mosque, for example, was a church, then a synagogue and now it’s a mosque. You can still see the plaque from when it was a Jewish Sunday School. Brick Lane is a mini Jerusalem.
We started to look at shared spaces. We looked at the prayer rooms you get in hospitals.These tend to be very boring spaces. We started to doodle on tracing paper; to think about what a shared space of worship could be. We learnt that there are a lot of similarities between our religions’ places of worship, the way their ceremonies use light, water and fire. The main differences were to do with orientation. Muslims pray towards Mecca. Synagogues and churches face Jerusalem.
We came up with this idea about a space that is a mosque on a Friday, synagogue on a Saturday and a church on a Sunday. Iconography is a challenge. It would be problematic for non-Christian services and ceremonies to be taking place with church crosses. Hence curtains and clever lighting hide this iconography when necessary. We are looking at a programme of activities for Monday toThursday. Weekdays may be inter-faith rather than single faith.
Rosie Parker: I came across this project when I was organising a festival for the Three Faiths Forum. I had never come across anything that addressed the issue of architecture.There is the House of One, an architectural proposition for an inter-faith space which is being built in Berlin. The idea is for a shared space in the middle and then partitioned areas for each of the three faiths – a church, a mosque and a synagogue. Friday Saturday Sunday is different in that it proposes a collective space that is actively shared in a positive way. Alex Nicholson Could multi-faith weddings be a market?
Daniel Leon: Yes. Education – for faith and non-faith schools – could also be an opportunity.
Alex Nicholson: Could you be a registry office?Weddings and funerals would give you footfall.
Isabel Allen: I would have thought that all sorts of people who generally wouldn’t ordinarily choose a religious building for a wedding or funeral would feel more comfortable with the idea of a multi-faith space that isn’t attached to any one specific religion.The key thing is that this is a community building, but one which caters to spiritual as well as functional needs. I could imagine it working as a ‘seed’ project for major new developments. It could start life essentially as a sales office; a place to generate interest in an emerging community, but it could also help to establish that community – to glue it together – from early on.
Daniel Leon: Food is also a massive thing; bringing people together. People from different traditions arguing about who has got the best hummus.
Alex Nicholson: Food might muddy the waters.You won’t get a developer to hedge their bets on the food aspect. You want to focus on one aspect.
Soheb Panja: We are all asking how this thing is going to make money. But it 6 feels like an amazing societal necessity at a time when people are increasingly polarised. Muslims and Jews are going to learn about each other in a way that never normally happens.The parts of London where faith is very strong are often the most segregated.This feels like a real social good. It might be 5 hard to make it work in a commercial sense but do you want this to be a charitable thing? Could it appeal to a rich donor who might want to do something good?
Amy Zamarripa Solis: What about the arts and cultural heritage angle? I would pitch it to festivals with the idea that you could use the spaces to host exhibitions that represent these different faiths.
Isabel Allen: How much does it cost to install your prototype to showcase the idea? Daniel Leon We have a portable structure that opens up like an umbrella, which we can build and 2 install for around £36,000.The intention is that this is funded equally by the three faiths.With a few phone calls we can get these people together quite quickly.
Digby Summerhill: A multi-faith wedding is a great way to celebrate a coming together of cultures.You could take this to festivals and advertise that aspect.This is a quick proof of concept – a flagship rollout.
WasteData is a proposed network of waste disposal hubs where rubbish is scanned and identified before being recycled. Designed by Aleksandar Stojaković and Alexander Frehse, founders of Studio 8FOLD
Alexander Frehse: Every bag of trash has a story to tell. Look at the way archaeologists study civilisations – what did they own? What did they need?If we find a way to log and analyse what people are throwing away we can start to understand their lifestyle. At a neighbourhood scale, data about trash provides an unfiltered reflection of people’s way of life. If you scale it up, and overlay this knowledge with demographic data, you can start to get really valuable intelligence. Mapping data gives us different ways to understand and improve the city. In the 19th century, John Snow linked cholera to water pumps polluted by sewage by mapping cholera outbreaks across the city. Smart phone GPS allows more informed decisions about where to locate bus stops. An analysis of trash gives us another means of understanding the city.When you start to overlay one set of data with another you start to see relationships and patterns that never occurred to you before. Other industries are using data to make informed decisions. The waste industry is throwing it in the dump.
Aleksandar Stojaković: Most people have no idea how much trash they discard over a year.We think there is an opportunity to communicate data back to people so that there is an awareness about what they are throwing away.When you are aware of your own behaviour you are in a position to change it. Small changes, such as getting milk delivered in glass bottles, can result in a substantial reduction in waste.The decision to charge five pence for plastic bags had an enormous impact. Maybe you can use the information to influence policy on packaging and pollution.
Our proposal is for a network of reverse vending machines, where people dispose of – and log – the things they want to throw away. We worked on the assumption that automated cars and developments in technology will lead to reduced demand for parking bays.We designed parking-bay sized units to inhabit these newly redundant spaces, creating a networked data collection system at places with a critical mass of people. A machine would weigh and image-scan each object to create a data bank that would be both a saleable commodity and a subject of local interest.We can imagine a future where different neighbourhoods or streets compete to produce the least waste.We see the data itself as a valuable asset, but we need guidance and expert advice on what we can do with this data. Practically, how would we do this?
Arthur Kay: Who is this big data valuable to?
Alexander Frehse: We would view it as something you could sell to the government to inform city plans or larger developments. Or to other companies who want to get a better understanding of what people are consuming. It could provide information on issues such as which marketing campaigns are successful; how different packaging is being run through the system.
Sahil Sachdev: A lot of investment decisions take into account the carbon impact of a supply chain. It could be interesting to start at the end of the supply chain and work backwards. Environmentally and socially conscious governments are interested in this sort of data.
Soheb Panja: Do you need to specify who will find value in this data at this stage? The biggest companies in the world are very conscious of the need to track and quantify waste. It’s reasonable to take a bet that there will be value in the data somewhere.
Amy Zamarripa Solis: Many funders are looking into mapping and data, and the value that arises from overlaying different types of data.
Aleksandar Stojaković: The issue is the methodology.Who do we pitch to first? How can we present the data to them? How do we navigate a path between city officials, private companies and residents?We know that the information in itself is valuable. For example, if you look at which newspapers are being thrown away you start to understand political affiliation.
Isabel Allen: We already know what newspapers have a hold in different parts of town because we know the sales figures. The data only gets really interesting when the trash tells us information you couldn’t get from data on sales. As an example, if a company invests in recyclable packaging, but it’s not ending up in the recycling bin, we know that the investment isn’t getting the desired results. Maybe the company needs to work harder on its messaging.
Suzanne Trocmé: What you need to develop is the timeline.The gap between when things are bought and when they get thrown away. For example, people are talking about fast fashion at the moment but nobody is collecting data on how long it takes before clothes end up in bin bags.
Arthur Kay: Winnow Solutions do this at a micro scale.They do computer imaging for food waste inside restaurants.Their technology photographs and identifies food as it’s thrown away and puts a value on it.This allows restaurants to make informed decisions and cut down on the amount of food they throw away.
Isabel Allen: Even if you can’t find a way of realising the commercial value of the data immediately, there’s an environmental benefit which would appeal to the public sector. As I understand it you’re offering incentives in return for responsible recycling. In a way it’s like the mother of all Nectar cards. Except in reverse. In that it encourages people to recycle rather than consume.
21st-century village hall
Tom Badger, a recent graduate from the London School of Architecture, and George Entwistle are developing proposals for a village hall that serves the community, boosts the local economy, champions the production and consumption of local, sustainable food and anticipates the demands of a growing population
Tom Badger: I was approached by trustees of my local village hall in Kempsey in Worcestershire, who have planning permission to replace the building they have.They had hit a wall.They needed to find £750k. My challenge was just to renew the planning permission but I felt there was vast potential in the site. The village has a population of 3,000 but is rapidly growing. In the next five years there will be 500 new homes. There is a lack of foresight about the social infrastructure needed to accommodate this increase in population. I wanted to assess who the village was working for, to look at the existing network of amenities and to look at the potential to develop the site to complement the assets the village already has.
I found out that the parish owns a patch of land on the edge of the site. At the moment the parish gets £200 a year from renting out the field as grazing for sheep.They could make the same money by renting it to local people as allotments. People could grow food for themselves and to supply local pubs. The village hall could include a café and a shop selling fresh produce. I started to look at the potential for a building that hosts village hall functions but also boosts the local economy and offers training and education for local people. There are opportunities to create a new social centre and to teach people about farming and food. I looked at case studies like the Incredible Edible project in Todmorden in West Yorkshire, which uses unused patches of land to plant food for the community, and The Food Commons in California, which looks at poor areas of the state and uses redundant buildings and land to produce and grow food.The building can be pretty straightforward.
By designing a simple, flexible, barn-like building I have reduced costs by £250,000 to £500,000.We still need funding for the building and for the operating costs. How do I go about that?
Amy Zamarripa Solis: I would look for funding for training. Without knowing the demographics of your village, I can’t say exactly what. But you could get funding to train those in need. You could also look at creating a community pub. Selling shares is a good way of getting community buy-in.
Digby Summerhill: Do the 500 homes being built have partial planning permission? If not, the developer will be able to latch onto your scheme via Section 106. They will want to convince the council and the locals that their project will have a positive impact on the community and providing funds for this sort of project is a great way to do it.
Isabel Allen: The housebuilders will have a marketing budget. You could look at things that will make it easier for them to justify funding your project on the basis that they add to the sales story. Find out about their target market and think about what might appeal to them. A decent café is going to be a big pull.You could also think about things like opportunities for hot-desking and shared workspace to make it more attractive for people planning to work from home.
Digby Summerhill: It’s like you’re creating a WeWork that’s a farm in a village. WeWork meets Soho House but without the expensive membership. Something you didn’t know you needed.
Amy Zamarripa Solis: Your project could provide an opportunity to train people working in the construction industry. You could approach the housebuilders about working with them on apprenticeship schemes.
Digby Summerhill: A more powerful pitch to the developer is if you go to them offering some sort of buy-in. Developers aren’t overly concerned with the social aspect. If you make it simple for them they are more likely to buy in.You just need to write to them saying: ‘If you do X,Y,Z then we will give you X’. You need to talk to the council and get them on side so that they demand that the Section 106 money from the new housing goes towards your project. It’s worth chatting to planning consultants and planning PR people, who are good at doing this sort of thing. If you can get developers witnessing council and local buy-in to your project they’re much more likely to get behind it too – both to save face and to increase the chances of getting their own project through the planning process.
Former chef Pascal Gerrard has launched StreetCube, a start-up that converts upcycled shipping containers into professional semi-permanent solar- powered kitchens. The aim is to give independent chefs a platform to operate small-scale businesses serving sustainable organic food at the heart of local communities
Pascal Gerrard: My project is focused on food and sustainability and reducing CO2 and improving public health. I wanted to tackle that by empowering chefs to champion a more sustainable food future. Our city centres are our public spaces where the majority of people shop and mingle. As a chef, I’m horrified by the way these centres are populated with unsustainable food chains that prioritise profit rather than nutrition, taste or sustainability.The only place I see chefs being empowered is in street- food markets where good, affordable food is cooked with passion and pride, but often with a lack of awareness around sustainability and nutrition. Pop-up culture has produced some great results. But by its very nature it’s here today, gone tomorrow. There’s no opportunity for the chef to establish a lasting relationship with their audience. I wanted to find a way to help young chefs set up business at the heart of their communities and to challenge them to offer more nutritious food.
Using disused shipping containers I’ve designed a semi-permanent professional kitchen.We look for locations in busy public places and young chefs who want to operate their own kitchen. The chef has to agree to commit to using local, seasonal, organic produce. I spent two years in Bournemouth trying to sell my idea to the council and get hold of a site, but didn’t get anywhere. Things only started to come together when I picked up the phone to Land Securities and asked them for space.We now have two kitchens on site inWandsworth. We launched the first cube in May. Raymond Blanc came to the opening. We are reducing CO2 by a kilo every day. There is no plastic and no food waste – nothing goes to landfill. We are looking for places to install more cubes.
Digby Summerhill: What do you actually need? If I could write you a cheque now, would you be after enough cash to get more cubes in more locations?
Pascal Gerrard: What I need now is more sites. For that I need exposure. And I need connections. So I’m looking for any help with press coverage and with links into government.
Isabel Allen: But is access to sites enough? If you had space to put in 10 more cubes would you have the capital to do that?
Pascal Gerrard: I’d need financial help to install more than five cubes.
Isabel Allen: Then it needs to be framed as a business model. At the moment you’re presenting it as a social, philanthropic model, but it feels as though you have the makings of a scaleable business model which could be framed as a pretty straightforward investment pitch. In simple terms, what are the costs and what are the profits?
Pascal Gerrard: It costs £25,000 to build and install each cube. I negotiate a reduced rent with the landowner on the basis of the benefits it brings – reduced CO2, improvements to the neighbourhood. The chef rents the cube from me. InWandsworth the chef pays £75 a day.
Isabel Allen: Would you consider marketing and selling the cube as a product for an upfront one-off cost?
Pascal Gerrard: No. Because then you lose control over the ethos.You wouldn’t be able to be prescriptive about things like sustainability.
Digby Summerhill: Could you cover that with contracts? The sustainability label becomes part of the overall brand. When a consumer goes there they know what they are buying. The chef can buy a cube as a franchise. That jumps out to me as a workable model that you can easily scale up.
Pascal Gerrard: I can see the cube as a mobile solution: a kitchen on wheels. A chef could buy it on a lease and maybe use it for festivals or events.
Soheb Panja: A good way to mitigate risk and grow at scale would be to look at platforms like Deliveroo. By tapping into that model you open up to a much bigger market. You have a niche. You can give people what no one else is offering.
Amy Zamarripa Solis: Could this be a place for people to learn new skills? You could look at, say, a six-month programme for people to learn about food. A lot of councils are looking at micro-sites for new businesses. A big focus for us, and for a lot of community funding, is job creation and giving people opportunities to learn skills and routes to employment. The National Lottery-funded programmes also fit this bill.
Alex Nicholson: What is your average revenue per day?
Pascal Gerrard: At the moment the chefs take around £500-£600 day.
Alex Nicholson: That’s a workable business model.You offer chefs a service contract. You could get the chefs to search out sites for you and scale up pretty quickly.You just need to package it. You just need the cash model. You need to work out future revenues. We can help you with that.
StreetCube – what happened next?
Following the How to Pitch It event, Alex Nicholson invited Pascal Gerrard to meet his colleagues for further discussions about developing and funding his business. We asked Magnus Macintyre, Chairman of EndeavourVentures, to give his verdict
When Alex Nicholson brought Pascal Gerrard to our offices in Devonshire Street my colleague Bill Cunningham and I wanted to know three things. Did he have a plan to scale StreetCube? What was his ultimate goal? Was he prepared for us to help him achieve his goal?
The answer to the first question doesn’t have to be yes, but the answer to the last most certainly does.
Not every entrepreneur has to have figured out every step of their plan. To a degree, that’s our job – and anyway, no one can predict the future with absolute certainty. But if the entrepreneur is suspicious of the financiers, or resents them getting involved, the relationship is not going to be a happy one. The entrepreneur must have realistic expectations of what can be accomplished, and a clear view of the chances of success and what that success might look like. Equally, the financiers must be both helpful and honest.
As far as we can tell from an initial examination, there are two ways to finance StreetCube. The first option is to raise all the finance as equity. This has the benefit of stability, but it is hard work to raise money and Pascal may have to give away more of the business than he is completely comfortable with.The other way of doing it would be to use debt. If each cube costs, say, £20,000 to make, the business could borrow probably £15,000 on each cube and pay back that debt out of the first year’s rent. It may be that a hybrid of debt and equity is the optimum.
Pascal’s idea clearly works.The concept has been proven. It is popular with customers, rewards Pascal and the chefs, and is also good for the landowner and for the people who live and work in the areas he has chosen. There is no reason why it cannot work at scale. At least, no reason that does not face any other business trying to grow – execution risk.
There is a lot of financial modelling and interrogation of costs to be done. The search for suitable sites is probably the biggest challenge, and Pascal will need to find a team of people to help him to do this and all the other aspects of the business that he has been doing largely on his own. Building teams quickly also has risks and stresses. But Endeavour has seen and done it many times, and can advise along the way. Pascal also needs a board that can challenge him as well as help him.
We like that, unlike most efforts to create sustainable environments in the city, this does not require vast amounts of capital. We like its social and environmental benefits. But perhaps the most exciting element for a venture capital firm is that there are no limits to the business. If it works in London, there is no reason why it cannot work in other cities and towns – and for events and festivals anywhere. And if it works in the UK, there is no reason why it cannot work in other countries. Of course, other people could copy StreetCube. Indeed, they surely will if it is a success – and it is unlikely that it could be protected by patent. But there is no reason to fear healthy competition. First they mock, then they diss, then they copy.
Pascal has the one characteristic essential for an entrepreneur that you can’t manufacture. It’s the thing that’s going to make people want to work for him, to persuade people to give him and sell him things, and to buy from him. And it’s the characteristic that’s going to sustain him and the people around him during the occasional bleak periods in any business when things don’t seem to be going according to plan. That characteristic is passion.