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Former firefighter thrives in Clerkenwell Station closure aftermath

PUBLISHED: 15:14 27 November 2014

The Greenhouse hosted an indoor autumn market earlier this month. Pic: Dieter Perry

The Greenhouse hosted an indoor autumn market earlier this month. Pic: Dieter Perry

Dieter Perry

A lot of people were affected when Clerkenwell Fire Station was closed by Boris Johnson at the start of the year.

Rob SmithRob Smith

A vital piece of the borough’s history was lost, fire response times increased across the borough and people took to the streets in droves to voice their anger about the cuts.

But the firefighters themselves suffered the most upheaval. They faced redundancy, or being herded elsewhere – at the very least leaving the station many of them had worked at for decades.

But one of them, forward-thinking fireman Rob Smith, refused to be downhearted.

He took his redundancy pay, hooked up with some friends, and opened the Greenhouse – an office space in Newington Green that allows new or small businesses to rent desks and get started, enjoying a bustling business environment without forking out for their own premises.

He said: “I worked as a London fireman for about 10 years. I was at Clerkenwell until the bitter end.

“Despite campaigns, and against the wishes of people, it all turned out to be futile.

“Boris just went ahead anyway.

“I felt very disillusioned, the place was closed despite its history and it all seemed so inevitable.

“It was a choice between getting dispersed somewhere else or doing something new.

“I decided to get involved with something progressive and help the area I had worked in for a great many years.

“So with my rather paltry redundancy package I contributed to converting a warehouse in Green Lanes.”

With some friends he helped set up a combination of hot desk space, a co-working office, a cafe and even a yoga studio.

They have even started hosting their own community events, like a recent indoor market on November 8 which saw dozens of people head down to browse stalls selling wares from local designers, as well as lashings of food and drink.

And Mr Smith says the place is becoming a hit with the entrepreneurs in the area.

“We wanted to do something for local creative businesses,” said Mr Smith.

“People who work from homes or in cafes and need more space.

“We did some research and asked people in Stoke Newington and Newington Green are what they wanted.

“They seemed very interested.

“They wanted flexibility and networking, and I think that’s what we’ve provided.

“We’re really pleased with how it’s gone so far.”

Since opening six weeks ago the collective space is already more than 30 per cent full, with intriguing ventures like music labels, design companies and even a man who has invented exercise bikes that squeeze juice for a smoothie while you ride.

Mr Smith said: “We didn’t launch with a fanfare.

“We always knew it would be a slow builder and that’s how we wanted it.

“Small businesses or sole traders are finding traditional office models don’t work.

“This is a much better fit, and it’s good for the local economy.

“People pass us on their way to the Tube and think ‘hang on a minute’, and they come to us and get involved.

“If things go well, we should be half full by Christmas.

“It’s great to still be involved with the area after all the turmoil of the fire station closure.”

The Greenhouse is in Green Lanes, Newington Green.

For more information call 0207 226 5537 or visit thegreenhouselondon.com.


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