News Walthamstow

Council confirms CRATE St James Street takeover

The move comes after weeks of uncertainty about the popular site’s future

By Marco Marcelline

CRATE St James Street

Waltham Forest Council has announced it will own and manage CRATE St James Street in a move that secures its future until “at least” January 2026.

The move comes after weeks of negotiations between the council and CRATE St James Street co-founder John Walker. The council’s ownership will become effective on 1st January 2024.

In a statement, Ahsan Khan, cabinet member for housing and regeneration said the council sought ownership when the “current management announced they were stepping back” from the site.

Cllr Khan said: “Since it first opened four years ago CRATE St James has proved how successful a partnership between business and the council, can be in attracting visitors.

“Not only has it transformed the local area but as an incubator for small businesses it has helped hundreds of local people into employment and out of nothing created a new social scene.

“Its easy mix of bars, eateries, fashion, shops, and community spaces has made a big difference – and we want that to continue. So, when the current management announced they were stepping back, we decided the businesses should have that on-going support.”

CRATE St James was opened in 2019 with the understanding that it would be a non-permanent space. It occupies council-owned land that had previously been a car park blighted by anti-social behaviour. In October, amid negotiations between the council and CRATE ownership on extending the lease, unconfirmed rumours swirled on social media that the site was set for demolition. An online petition against the “slated demolition” attracted over 1,400 signatories.

Businesses operating at the St James Street site were told of the ownership transfer earlier this week. In an email announcing the move which was sent to CRATE business owners seen by the Echo, council officer Aydin Sipalogu wrote: “From January 1, 2024, Waltham Forest Council will be taking over the ownership and management of the site and I’m happy to confirm the scheme’s future is guaranteed until at least January 2026.”

Aydin added that “as part of the transfer [Waltham Forest Council] will be looking to put in place new license to occupy tenancy agreements with each business ready for 1st January 2024” and that there will otherwise “be no obvious changes in the day-to-day running of CRATE St James Street.”

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Representatives from the council were on site at 2pm yesterday afternoon (29th November) to speak to business owners about the pending transfer. According to Jeremy, owner and founder of Long & Short coffee shop, the meeting was simply a “hello” operation and there were not many details offered about the transfer or what the council had planned for the site.

Jeremy, who has been operating his cafe at the CRATE St James Street since 2019, told the Echo that he hopes the council’s ownership will mean more spending on the site. He said he welcomed the council’s guarantee that the scheme will continue until “at least” January 2026, but added that he hadn’t yet received a contract for a lease extension.

Mike Gerber, co-founder of Vinyl Vanguard, a record shop located on the CRATE St James Street site, echoed Jeremy’s positive reaction, saying the news had “lifted the uncertainty about the place” that had been hanging over it for many weeks.

The record shop moved into CRATE in its early days in October 2019. While noting that “it’d be nice to be in a bigger shop”, he found CRATE rates to be “affordable”. He said that he hoped that, as owners, the council will put on “more music gigs, and more comedy events” as the site has a “hell of a lot of potential”.

In a statement shared via the council, CRATE St James co-founder John Walker said: “We set out in 2019 with a five-year plan to showcase local business, support diverse entrepreneurs and help Waltham Forest Council with its business support, community engagement and regeneration objectives.

“Together we have come a very long way in meeting these goals. The coming years though require a different approach to better leverage what we have built together and the council’s improving capacity.

“I am delighted to see the CRATE St James Street scheme transfer to an ownership best placed to shape a new chapter.

“The change of control also enables me and fellow directors to focus on new challenges, particularly helping the social enterprise sector scale its impact.”

CRATE was contacted for further comment on why it stepped back from the St James Street site but did not respond in time for publication.

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