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Guardians Of The Arches

May 24, 2018
by the gentle author

Our reports about the beleaguered traders under the railway arches in London Fields have become the catalyst for the formation of Guardians of the Arches, a nationwide pressure group campaigning for small businesses in railway arches – many thousands of whom are currently faced with exorbitant rent increases by Network Rail that threaten to put them out of business and destroy their livelihoods. Click here to sign their letter to the Secretary of State for Transport.

Bill Waldon, Westgate Motor Centre

‘I used to have five arches but I was priced out and ended up in this dark hole!’

Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I visited the occupants of the railway arches in London Fields where an atmosphere of crisis prevails currently. Thirty years ago, these crumbling old arches were empty and derelict but, over time, a diverse economy of small businesses has grown up here – chiefly car repairs, cabinet-making and secondhand furniture dealing, supplemented more recently by brewers, bakers and coffee roasters.

Yet now the owner Network Rail is demanding 200% and 300+% rent increases which threaten to destabilise this small community and drive out those have been longest established in this location offering invaluable services to local residents.

‘We feel we are the guardians of the arches,’ explained Nivinh Chu whose father started Chu’s Garage twenty-eight years ago, ’Yet we are being driven out by these increases, when small businesses are the heart and soul of Hackney.’ In common with some of their neighbours, Chu’s Garage faces a back-dated rent hike from £18,000 to £40,000 per annum while for others the increases are even higher.

‘Bricks were falling out of the roof for the first twenty years but Network Rail did nothing, so we had to built this temporary roof so nobody gets injured,’ Nivinh admitted to me with a grin at the absurdity of the situation.

In response to these adverse circumstances, the occupants of the railway arches are banding together to challenge Network Rail’s excessive rent increases and we support them in their fight to stay in business.

John Lucien and John ‘boy’ Griffin of Westgate Motor Centre, established twenty-four years under the arches – ‘We do general repairs and we try to look after everybody’

Ben Mackinnon, Founder of E5 Bakehouse

Ben Mackinnon and fellow bakers at E5 Bakehouse

Stephen Maxwell of Maxwell Pinborough, bespoke furniture

Stephen Maxwell and colleagues at Maxwell Pinborough

Vict Anhu Vu of USA Nails Beauty Supply – ‘For fifteen years, we have had three warehouses under the arches and a shop in Mare St’

Noemi Dulischewski, founder of Brunch, a pop-up restaurant in the the London Fields Brewery Tap Room which has been running for two years

Charlie Fox, Proprietor of Poetstyle bespoke furniture and upholstery – ‘We moved in on Christmas eve thirty years ago and now we are facing 250% rent increase’

Ali Sharif of Sharif Auto Services has been operating under the London Fields arches for seven years. Currently he pays £30,000 but Network Rail want £100,000

Charles Woodward and ‘Popsy’ of London Doggies, pet grooming business established six years

Ian Rutter, Company Manager of London Fields Brewery

Simon Clark, Coffee Roaster at Climpson’s Coffee

Ahmet Ozer has been dealing in secondhand catering equipment for seventeen years from his arch

Quang Chu, Nivinh Chu and Jimmy Chu of Chu’s Garage

Quang Chu and Jimmy Chu of Chu’s Garage, opened by their father twenty-eight years ago

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

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At Chu’s Garage

At JC Motors, Haggerston

At Three Colts Lane

At The E5 Bakehouse

At The Car Washers

12 Responses leave one →
  1. John Barrett permalink
    May 24, 2018

    Remember; railway arches did save lives during WW2 Londoners would pop into some of them them during air raids. Shrapnel from exploding anti aircraft shells would rain down also other nasties came down. Railway Co’s please don’t price these hard workers out of their businesses. Poet John Shirehampton Bristol

  2. Anthony Bryn Stainthorpe permalink
    May 24, 2018

    Network rail to me is all about money grabbing from people who have used the arches to carry on a business their lively hood. They are keeping the area clean and tidy and because of this network rail should be thankful. I don’t know how they can justify putting up rents to the higher level as planned. Shame.

  3. May 24, 2018

    Good argument for nationalising the railways. I hope these people win their battle.

  4. Richard Smith permalink
    May 24, 2018

    What a disgrace it is that these good folk are facing such a hike in their rent. Network Rail should be ashamed of themselves. I wish all the Guardians of the Arches success in their battle to retain their arch workplaces at a fair and reasonable rent.

  5. May 24, 2018

    Thank you for keeping the spotlight on these intrepid entrepreneurs. Stating the obvious, this is a vital part of the heart beat of the city, and these folks should be encouraged and uplifted. I so enjoyed “meeting” these workers, through this series of excellent photos — and wish them well.
    Power to the people of the arches!

  6. May 24, 2018

    It clearly is wrong with the over-charging of Network Rail re.,premises but the statements made by workers there seemed to have occurred no more than 30 years ago. I recall the late 1960s when I worked as a Christmas post deliverer to that London Fields area and ended up covered in grit from the railway arches’ wooden machines leading to pain under my contact lenses! When I went to the launch in the E5 bakehouse for the work of Colin O’Brien on nearby Children Travellers’ images from the past I also realised that that residential situation had considerably changed as well as the new nearby arches.

  7. Marcia Howard permalink
    May 24, 2018

    The proposed rises set by Network Rail is disgraceful; it’s barefaced robbery, therefore criminal in my eyes. I shall certainly sign the letter for the Secretary of State. The rents mentioned sound pretty high already to me. We must help protect these valuable businesses and the owners’ livelihoods!

  8. Vita permalink
    May 25, 2018

    Just another saddening example of the fabric of what sustains local communities begin ripped out. I worked with Chris Grayling many years ago and thought him to be a decent colleague (before he got into politics and lost his soul) but I am horrified by what his department is capable of in the warped belief that our city is driven purely on economics. In my neighbourhood, TFL tripled the leases of a few local shops that had been trading for at least 30 years and are now standing empty waiting for a ‘coffee shop’ replacement or similar that in turn will compete with 4 independents that trade outside the catchment area. And I understand that unlike local authorities who at least offer a form of revenue tribunal, TFL does not. I am so dismayed by the continual drive to force businesses into closure or bankruptcy and with the collapse of the traditional ‘high street’ and its retailers, surely it is more pressing than ever to support and maintain the small business and encourage entreprise.

  9. Ron Bunting permalink
    May 25, 2018

    Here in Australia, a person can travel around any city in any state to the industrial zones and see building after building Empty and for lease or for sale. All because the rents demanded are far in excess of that which any small business can afford . Just like network rail, most industrial real estate here is owned by shareholding companies which demand a return on their investments. A look at network rail might reveal that the rail business is not paying as well as it should so an easy target has been discovered, tenants who have two options, pay a rental increase, or leave. The latter being almost impossible if you own something like a bakery or brewery.

  10. Susan Linton permalink
    June 2, 2018

    Yet another assault on thriving small businesses. It beggars belief that the government is not intervening in this, the profit for Goldman Sachs will not outweigh the cost of the loss of amenities in the area, the personal loss to the business owners or the suffering it must be causing and will continue to cause. Is there not one decent politician left that will stand up for the normal, hardworking people, we used to be the life blood of this nation. I remember the arches when I was a child and watched as they grew businesses, fed families, gave life to downtrodden areas and service to the local people. I find it hard to convey how utterly disgusted I am by this. What is wrong with these people, is nothing sacred or important to them but money? They have no shame, no conscience and no moral centre.
    They are parasites on humanity and it way past the time we stood up to those who should be in honoured service to their country and instead feed their insatiable greed from it.

  11. Jonathan Ellis permalink
    June 2, 2018

    What a Fucking cheek these railway elites have you guys are the beating heart of my community helping serving feeding and hard working .This would not happen in any other country.

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