The Wombles of ... Farringdon

30 Oct 18

This week we moved from the sunny heights of the third and fourth floors of Flitcroft House, Charing Cross Road, to an underground car park on Saffron Hill, Farringdon. It’s a forgotten space beneath the long-ago converted offices and publishing works of the former Punch magazine company.

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It pains me that hardly anybody under the age of 40 has heard of The Wombles. For me, they were a quintessential part of childhood, and the theme tune alone takes me back to distant memories of tea-time TV, mince and potatoes, and Birds Angel Delight for pudding – if we’d eaten all of our peas.

I have current cause to think of The Wombles, and not just because I keep an eye out for them when I’m taking Roger Davison (aka Sparky; flat coat retriever) for a walk on Wimbledon Common, albeit it is one of his favourite haunts. Rather it’s what The Wombles represent: ‘underground, overground, Wombling free’, … ‘making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folks leave behind’. Those fury fellows were sustainable visionaries, and I’m amazed that the series hasn’t been reprised in 21st Century digital glory, even if only for educational purposes. Tales of Uncle Bulgaria picking up litter and forgotten items and recycling them, and scurrying back to The Wombles’ underground lair, out of sight and out of mind. Very right-on.

I feel the Tribe at Iceni are a bit like the latter day Wombles. We’ve got Aunty Romania (aka Madi), who takes care of everyone. We’ve Dan Jestico, who is on a one-man mission to change our working practices, to eliminate waste and maximise re-use and recycling, and to heighten our understanding of sustainability and sustainable development. We have James Bompas, who is digitising our working practices, ably supported by Ellie Burt-Jones, who is enforcing a strict no-paper policy.

And then we have The Tribe itself. This week we are moving from the sunny heights of the third and fourth floors of Flitcroft House, Charing Cross Road, to an underground car park on Saffron Hill, Farringdon. It’s a forgotten space beneath the long-ago converted offices and publishing works of the former Punch magazine company. It has virtually no natural light. When we found it three years ago, the most exciting thing about it was that it contained a vintage Mercedes (unfortunately, that went with the previous owner). It was pitch black (naturally), cavernous (with potential), and valued as a car park (opportunity). Working with our long-standing landlord at Charing Cross Road and client, Estates & Agency, we’ve been involved in the transformation of the space from the initial site visit right the way through to project completion. We’ve experienced the uncertainties and frustrations of the acquisition process, we’ve conducted our own consultation exercises (i.e. we’ve spoken to each other as to what we want from our space), and we’ve waited patiently to secure planning permission. Thankfully we managed that bit.

We are not the first to convert a car park to a work space, and we very much hope we won’t be the last. We’ve gained space for 130 people on one floor, which is a rare find in London these days. We’ve an amazing, characterful space, which is bespoke, intimate but also airy, and highly sustainable. It has been converted to Breeam Very Good, and as we found even during the blazing heights of the summer, it stays comfortably cool all year round. And of course, we’ve plenty of wall space, and no problems with sun glare.

There are seemingly very few places to forage for space in London these days, but underground car parks, of the type still found under 1950-1980’s buildings do potentially represent an affordable, and innovative way of providing accommodation for the plethora of small to medium sized businesses that sit in the increasingly awkward middle ground between start-up shared workspace and trophy floors in landmark buildings. Our space is highly personal, designed to encourage agile working, and with a focus on places to talk and meet rather than simply heads-down working. And in an age where fewer people are thinking of the need to drive to work, it follows that there may be one or two other opportunities to pursue. Estates & Agency certainly believe so; they’ve already acquired and converted a (slightly inferior) second car park in Victoria.

Not everyone will be convinced. A lot of people will probably not even notice, and will walk on by. And naturally, we quite like that.

If you’d like to see more on our new space, you’d be very welcome to pop in for a coffee, or failing that, we’ve uploaded some images below. If you’d like to know more about The Wombles, you should definitely click here

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