Becoming to food what Canary Wharf is to finance, and what Old Street is to the tech sector, the New Covent Garden Market has this month revealed plans for the first phase of its £130m development that will see it transform into London’s first food industry hub.
Based at Nine Elms in Battersea, the development’s first phase will see the launch of The Food Exchange – a first-of-its-kind co-working space for food entrepreneurs from every walk of life to create and collaborate under one roof.
Offering 40,000 square feet of lettable working space, spanning three floors and three large roof terraces, The Food Exchange promises a unique co-working experience for food entrepreneurs in central London.
It will house London’s largest shared kitchen, alongside private studios with space for more than 130 food businesses to work and innovate.
In addition, The Food Exchange promises to be an exciting new food culture destination – a place where industry professionals can come to teach, and Londoners can come to cook, learn and eat together.
Business Advice had a look around The Food Exchange ahead of the launch of its private studio spaces. The studios become ready to rent to food-related businesses of all types – from recipe developers and manufacturers, to PR agencies and food writers – in February 2018.
Our tour guide was Helen Evans, director of business development at the Covent Garden Market Authority (CGMA) – the statutory body which manages the smooth running of the New Covent Garden Market, and answers to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Explaining the CGMA’s long-term vision for the development of the market at Nine Elms, Evans told Business Advice: “Our ultimate aim is to create a new food quarter for London.
“In the past, the New Covent Garden Market has simply been a wholesale food and flower market. We’re now creating a space for a different type of business to grow.”
Opportunities for food entrepreneurs
Once redevelopment of the New Covent Garden Market had been agreed, Evans realised that to secure its future, the market had to find a way to stay on top of food industry trends and remain ahead of the curb when it came to innovation in the sector.
With new investment came an opportunity for the market to play a new role. According to Evans, The Food Exchange was created as a way for the CGMA to begin influencing the direction of the UK food industry, rather than simply reacting to developments in it.
“We wanted to provide a ‘front door’ to the market, to showcase its best attributes” she explained. “We were also aware of huge ongoing changes in food, and we wanted a way to stay flexible enough to be able to adapt our offering.
Evans hoped that by introducing London’s food industry to the concept of co-working, New Covent Garden Market could stay adaptable and innovative for years to come.
The CGMA earmarked two of the three floors in The Food Exchange to become home to the UK’s largest shared kitchen, run in partnership with food incubator Mission Kitchen. The space will be filled with different types of kitchen and bench space, of various sizes, that will be available to rent by the hour, day or week.
Food entrepreneurs will also gain access to private kitchens, desk and computer space, and areas to hire for events and training purposes.
Evans’ aim is to provide a space where food entrepreneurs and startup founders can experiment and, importantly, collaborate. “Small businesses are nothing if not adaptable,” she told Business Advice. “They don’t have the constraints of a large corporate. That’s one of the beauties of working with them.”
A dream come true for local businesses?
The Food Exchange has already become a popular initiative with local stakeholders. Ahead of its opening, Ian Taitte, the director of local food and hospitality events management firm Think Events, said that for local businesses the Food Exchange sounded like “a dream come true”.
“It will give local startups the opportunity to break down barriers of communication and show off their culinary skills to a wider community,” he told Business Advice. “Through collaboration, Wandsworth’s food businesses will strengthen, leading to increased innovation.”
Helen Roberts, the founder and managing director at Wandsworth Foodies, a body that represents the interests of food and hospitality startups in the Battersea area, agreed that as a collaborative space, the Food Exchange was an exciting new prospect for food entrepreneurs.
“The Food Exchange addresses a few major challenges for food businesses,” she said. “It provides much needed top of the range workspace and will provide a co-working kitchen space which is affordable, and in a fantastic location.
“It will also help to build a community. Entrepreneurship is a lonely world, where people want to meet each other. They want to connect, and The Food Exchange will provide a platform to bring people together and encourage them to collaborate.
“It has the potential to become the focal point for food in the UK. Food needs a centre piece, and I believe The Food Exchange can be it. It’s is an incredible initiative, one that can help to elevate the food industry to new heights and boost the local economy.”
New Covent Garden Market
Having moved to Nine Elms in 1974, until recently the New Covent Garden Market consisted of 57 acres dedicated to selling fruit, vegetables and flowers to London’s food services and hospitality trades.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the government, recognising Nine Elms as an “area of opportunity” and in preparation for introducing major housing and retail development to the area, gave permission to the CGMA to invest in infrastructure the market badly needed.
Under Evans’ stewardship, the CGMA sold off some of its land to private developers in exchange for a newer, more modern market complex that enabled food businesses to sell to consumers, as well as other businesses.
“We became 37 acres, and our private partners got our surplus land,” Evans explained. “At that time our only asset was land, so in return for giving some of it up, we secured a new market! The entire [Nine Elms] area had been light industrial, but it is now becoming primarily a residential area.”
Investment into the New Covent Garden Market coincided with two other major local developments, which Evans believes will help change the Nine Elms area irrevocably from an industrial wasteland into a thriving new hub for Londoners to live and work.
The recently opened new US Embassy at Nine Elms, and the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station into what will be one of London’s biggest shopping districts, means that the entire area is transforming around the New Covent Garden Market.
According to Evans, although the redevelopment in Nine Elms is exciting, construction is still in its early stages, and the area is a long way from being complete. “The new tube station won’t open until 2020, and the new market won’t be fully built until 2022,” she added.
“Before then, the Food Exchange offers the opportunity to give different types of working spaces to food startups.”
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