There was a time when retailers were an afterthought to housing developers. But increasingly sophisticated homeowners, used to an urban village life among coffee shops and boutiques, are demanding more.
“Ideally, you want to bring the commercial side in as soon as you can,” says John Anderson, chairman of developer Berkeley Homes, East Thames. “We’re always looking to see what would work best for the residents we’ve got in a particular development.”
Some of these requests are obvious – everyone needs to do their weekly food shop – but when it comes to cultural needs, new housing schemes have a reputation for being somewhat sterile. As a result, a new breed of small businesses are finding opportunities to work with housing developers to bring an “authentic” edge to new communities.
One success story is Hop Stuff, London’s only equity crowdfunded brewery, which was founded in 2013 by former City banker James Yeomans. He started as a buyer at Berkeley Home’s Royal Arsenal Riverside regeneration scheme. As a formerly run-down stretch of land in Woolwich, it was failing to attract big name retailers, and Berkeley took Yeomans up on his offer. “We want to encourage local businesses to grow with us,” says Anderson. “The brewery has gone from strength to strength; the beer’s sold in the Dial Arch pub on site and we’re in discussions to expand into a restaurant/cafe.”
Independent coffee shops like the Cornerstone Cafe at Royal Arsenal and First Coffee, at another of Berkeley’s schemes Kidbrooke Village have also taken off in recent years.
This is all part of a growing desire to shed the synthetic image that surrounds new housing schemes. It’s all good business for Craig Fisher, director of CF Commercial, who convinced The Modern Pantry, Barry’s Bootcamp and PizzaBuzz to set up shop on the City outskirts. His team scour the streets “like property A&R scouts” looking for potential businesses to introduce to developers who need that missing je ne sais quoi.
“Despite online shopping, people still want to experience retail and feel like they’re a part of something,” he says. “Good retail doesn’t just move into a community, it builds new relationships with it.”