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BLOQS is leading the evolution in the maker-economy, providing workspace, education and access to a huge range of high-end professional machines and equipment for the makers of today and tomorrow, giving tech the human touch. As much a community space as a physical place, BLOQS reflects the ethos at the centre of maker culture, where the intersection of open-access hardware and knowledge, sharing equity abounds.
With pay-as-you-go access, entrepreneurs can utilise this state-of-the-art equipment as and when they need it, eliminating the burden of fixed and high overhead costs, reflecting the increasing trend of the sustainable ‘sharing economy’, which is expected to be worth £140bn by 2025. It also reflects the growing public desire for bespoke items, or products manufactured with a lower carbon footprint. Overall, eight out of ten consumers say that they would pay more for this.
“BLOQS provides the missing link for solopreneurs and SMEs seeking to bridge the gap between start-up and producing at scale,” says Al Parra, Co-Founder at BLOQS. “Our space empowers, fostering growth that remains rooted in the community.”
And that growth can be achieved sustainably; both in the business’ financial commitments, and environmental impact. Currently most manufacturing processes involve long international supply chains and invisible production which are almost inevitably environmentally unsustainable. “By making locally in a city, close to the makers’ end users, BLOQS offers a positive alternative,” adds Arnaud Nichols, fellow Co-Founder at BLOQS.
It’s not just being close to the end customer that’s sustainable, but also having more than 700 companies sharing one space. Arnaud Nichols adds: “It’s a matter of ratios. Our factory is 32,000 square feet. Hypothetically, if we vanished overnight, and a very conservative estimate of only a third of our members were forced to afford an average workshop, their combined footprint would cover roughly 200,000 square feet, with each workshop necessitating its own embodied energy expenditure for machinery, infrastructure, real estate and a lifetime of energy use. That’s a vast expenditure. Sharing is now an ecological imperative.”
And sustainability has been designed into the BLOQS infrastructure itself. All energy from wood waste is recovered by a biomass boiler and used for space heating, central heating, and the building’s various hot water needs. And recently installed state-of-the-art solar panels to the roof provide 35% of the site’s electricity. These features and the facility’s usability and slick design all contributed to the recent RIBA Award wins.
“BLOQS is a social enterprise whose purpose is the creation of social and economic capital for the communities it serves, whilst being frugal with the planet’s increasingly scares resources. We take environmental stewardship seriously, as we look to regenerate urban creative economies by seeding maker hubs where creatives can learn and thrive together” adds Parra.
Data shows that this regeneration is much needed – a recent report by an independent commission found that London has lost a quarter of its industrial floorspace over the past 20 years.
“BLOQS answers a systemic need in cities for affordable workspace. The trend for commercial and industrial land to be turned into often more profitable and badly needed housing has put a squeeze on space for people to create. We’re bringing energy and opportunity to under-loved areas, to people who’ve been forgotten and under-valued. We’re not really building workshops”, adds Nichols. “What we’re doing is building a model for how resources can best be shared to achieve truly amazing things.”
This energy and model are already delivering commercial success. 380 full-time equivalent jobs have been created, and £15M a year is generated in the local economy by BLOQS members.
And the impact on the economy could be noted for much time to come, with more than 4,000 hours of education provided by BLOQS on the machinery, software and making skills. And more than 550 hours of free adult education has been provided with London’s largest further education provider, Capital City College Group. The team’s and site’s capabilities have also led to the Imperial College Engineering Department engage BLOQS to deliver undergraduate teaching modules.
An example of unleashing collective talent through community is BLOQS Create – an in house BLOQS design and fabrication service, that leverages the expertise of its pool of 700+ designers and makers to deliver multidisciplinary projects under one roof. Recent commissions have included, design-led modern public spaces such as an interactive child-friendly public streetscape in Palmers Green, to the wholesale refit of Fore Street Livingroom Library, and the Wandsworth Food Bus helping tackle issues of affordability and access to good quality food in deprived areas.
Providing this education and accessibility to opportunities in manufacturing will be key in addressing the dwindling workforce that threatens the sector, which is so vital to the economy. It is estimated the sector will create a staggering 32,000 new jobs by 2027, however a report revealed that while nearly a third (31%) of 18 – 25-year-olds would consider working in the sector, when asked to choose one profession they aspire to work in, only 2% chose manufacturing. “Britain is the birthplace of the first industrial revolution. We must now inspire our young people that it can be the birthplace of the next” comments Parra.
The site in London’s Lea Valley is the first BLOQS, but the goal is for this to be a new kind of productive local economy that could be readily replicated across the country and beyond.
Alisha Fredriksson, CEO at Seabound and BLOQS member comments on their experience: “The alternative to BLOQS was basically to sign a five-year lease in a big empty warehouse somewhere that we would have to fully equip ourselves. That was a really big barrier for us and really hard to justify. It didn’t make any sense. At BLOQS you don’t need to pay for a long and expensive lease. You can come for a month, you can come for a day, you can get support and you don’t have to figure it all out in isolation.
“If you’re trying to build an ambitious solution to tackle the climate crisis, don’t try to do it alone. BLOQS is a really fun, quirky, nourishing group of people to be part of.”
Olga Linardou, production manager at Sterk Studio which provides fabrication and design services such as art installations, set construction and exhibitions, for the likes of Salon de Mobil and the Roundhouse, is another member. She enthuses “BLOQS has been a beloved home to me for years now. We love inviting our clients to see their commissions being made here. They come to see their piece but showing it to them within BLOQS helps us contextualise and explain our work. Our clients can see that what they’ve commissioned for their museums or venue has a narrative of community and technology in its creation. I feel happy when I can see joy in their eyes as the story of their piece unfolds before them.”