Utilize’s first project sits on Pepper Street, just off Millwall Dock, a once-bustling port which brought timber and grain into London. It sits in the middle of a vibrant, mixed community in the shadow of the Canary Wharf financial district which too often feels little benefit from the wealth next door.
Utilize acquired six former office blocks off Millharbour at the beginning of 2020 and set about putting them to use just as the coronavirus pandemic struck. While the country went into lockdown, we had time to talk at length to the local community, work out what people wanted out of their space, and how we could work with them to realise a shared vision.
When retailers were allowed to reopen, Pepper Street launched with venues including an arts space, a salon, clothes shops, a food project for homeless people, and a counselling service. They pay vastly reduced costs, without which they would find it difficult to operate.
Utilize founder Gemma said:
“We’re a place where people in the local community genuinely want to go. When we first opened, as you would expect, people poked their heads around the door and looked curiously.”
“But in the weeks following they stayed – often people wandering through and ending up staying for hours, getting into conversations with each other in a way that doesn’t often happen in London. This is a place where people have the space to make things happen, and I come in each day having no idea what the people here will achieve next.”