Social enterprise in shipping containers

Bold plan for York city centre revealed.

This is the bold new vision for Piccadilly in York – a 'box park' housing shops, cafés and community projects inside former shipping containers. Called Spark:York, the start-up business hub could be up and running by spring next year. The idea is to transform the former Reynards garage site into a buzzing enterprise centre during the day, and a social and performance space at night. Dreamed up by three young entrepreneurs from York, the plans have been submitted to City of York Council.

Tom McKenzie and Sam Leach, both 23, and Joe Gardham, 36, hope Spark:York will provide employment for young people and kick-start the regeneration of York’s neglected ‘Southern Gateway’.

The Vision

A shared passion for social enterprise brought the three together. They have visited other successful shipping container hubs in London, including Pop Brixton and Boxpark in Shoreditch.

Spark:York will consist of 15 upcycled shipping containers, arranged over two levels. It is designed by award-winning architect Carl Turner, who featured on Channel 4's Grand Designs, and is the man behind Pop Brixton.

This will be the first scheme of its kind in the North of England: "It’s something new and authentically different," Joe told YorkMix.

They can be decorated in many different colours and designs, with the Spark:York community deciding on the style and brand.

Tom McKenzie said: "Spark:York will offer the perfect space to meet friends, eat, drink and socialise in a communal space in the heart of the city. Spark will strengthen York's early evening offer, by providing somewhere for the after-work crowd through the week, or for people looking to relax on a weekend. We’ve visited similar places across Europe and are really excited to bring this experience to York."

Inside Spark: York

Street food kiosks – street food not found elsewhere in the city
Drink kiosks – serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, tapping into the early evening, European-style way of drinking and socialising
Retail – selling products from small indie retailers
Shared workspace – a hub for socially-minded start-ups, charities and entrepreneurs
Meeting/ teaching space – a quiet space for meetings or classroom-type events
Stage and performance area – providing a platform for performing arts and a regular programme of events and activities for York residents
Public workspace – free wi-fi and desk space accessible to people passing by or needing a couple of hours' space in the city centre

Who could move in:

Joe said: "York is full of talented and visionary people. We are creating an affordable and inclusive space in the middle of town that will create opportunities for local people to realise their ambition."

This might be a local chef with a unique culinary idea, a budding retailer who can’t afford a space in town, or a volunteer who wants to take their charitable ideas to the next level.

Sam said it was about providing something new, not just another hotel or more flats. They are particularly keen to help a younger generation prosper.

“This is about providing things for younger people and allowing them to contribute to the local economy,” Sam told YorkMix.

“If we can give space for young, ambition people we can bring more industry to the city centre.”

York seems to lack that one pinnacle hotspot where the city fuses over great music, art and food. A project like Spark:York will fill the gap whilst allowing local and independent businesses to blossom.” – Adam Johnson: Amplify the Anthems.

How it works:

The containers

They are either 20ft or 40ft long by 8ft wideA 40ft container costs £1,500-£2,000 second handThe 40ft containers can be divided into up to three unitsA container can be ready in two daysThey are insulated and waterproof, fitted with plumbing and electricity, and can be fitted with a variety of windows and doorsContainers aren’t permanent and can be moved if new plans emerge for the site

The tenants

Spark:York is looking for local entrepreneurs with both a viable business plan and a community ethos
They would get a one-year lease with the option to make it longer
A free business advice hub would help with everything from accounts to insurance

The funding
Income streams for Spark:York will include…

Donations from philanthropists who share their vision
Grants for urban regeneration projects
Rent – “we’re not there to maximise profit so we’ll look to keep rents as low as possible

The above article first published on in Nov, 2016.