Affordable Workspace Challenge

Looking for solutions that will help local businesses to access and occupy affordable new space

What is the challenge?

Create a financially sustainable fit-out solution for empty commercial and community space in new developments, to enable local businesses and community organisations to easily and affordably occupy new space.



Hackney Wick and Fish Island (HWFI) – Creative Enterprise Zone boundary

Who are the end users?

Local, creative, small and micro businesses and community organisations that don’t have access to suitable space.

What impact are we seeking?

Short-term (project lifespan)

  • Number of developers engaged in the pilot leading to further fit-out investment to ensure space is occupied

Medium-term (within 12 months from completion)

  • Floorspace area fitted-out using the innovators’ solution
  • Number of small and micro businesses, and community organisations able to relocate in the area
  • Improvement of developers’ ability to deliver suitable work and community space as part of their developer obligation (no metric)


  • Improved sense of belonging and ownership from the community and resident satisfaction
  • Preserving commercial uses and well-balanced neighbourhoods, by avoiding inactive frontages or commercial units being turned into residential
  • Creating jobs and activities on the high streets, creating more economic resilience in the community and increasing social cohesion by creating spaces where there is a diversity of activities and different sections of the community are involved
  • Being able to retain the cluster of creative businesses, whilst redevelopment is happening and existing workspace will be demolished, preventing the displacement and loss of businesses operating in the area
  • Increasing the opportunity for businesses in HWFI to deliver social value (training, skills, volunteering, youth programmes, intergenerational cohesion)
  • Ensuring that creative industries, pop-up and meanwhile uses can support the economic recovery post-COVID-19, which can be transferred to many other local centres and high streets in London and nationally

What will the Resilience Partner provide?

  • Intelligence around the current approaches to delivering affordable workspace and community space in East London and detail about the challenges of commercial workspace occupancy.
  • Access to local Hackney Wick and Fish Island networks will be provided, especially: different types of workspace operators, community organisations, developers, and public authorities across the Olympic Park.
  • Innovators will have the opportunity to test their approaches with various local developers and the commercial space they have available.
  • Opportunity to be involved with the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park inclusive innovation district as a test-bed for trialling new solutions.

What does good look like?

A prototype that:

  • Incorporates considerations around the most prohibitive part of fit-out costs (digital infrastructure, sound-proofing, insulation, power, utilities, flooring, storage, material, finishes) and blueprints for key furniture pieces.
  • Provides access to affordable, modular or reusable fit-out materials
  • Can be used on a range of buildings, layouts and specifications
  • Can evolve into a financially sustainable model (for both users and providers)

Background information

  • New workspace (especially affordable space) in private development is often completed to shell and core, requiring substantial tenant investment to fit-out (for an average sized unit of 200-300 sqm, the fit-out budget could be up to hundreds of thousands of pounds), resulting in empty units and lack of business diversity moving in.
  • Nearly 90% of businesses in the Olympic Park area are micro-businesses (zero to four employees) while commercial space delivered by private developers are often big units, unattractive to small businesses, resulting in a supply and demand mismatch.
  • Local workspace demand is for smaller units, flexible lease terms and workspace delivery models that support collaboration, diverse and innovative ecosystems, and in turn, business and community resilience.
  • Local businesses and community groups being unable to use the empty spaces is detrimental to local economic development and social cohesion. The inaccessibility and unaffordability of these spaces also increases displacement risk for existing organisations. Local authorities and affordable workspace providers receive at least a dozen inquiries a week from businesses and community groups looking for space to relocate in the local area. This demand has continued throughout the pandemic.
  • Inactive frontages – i.e. empty ground floor units with a lack of connection between the street and the building – are extremely harmful to community cohesion and residents’ satisfaction, and is an indicator of the neighbourhood centre’s poor ‘health’. In August 2020, approximately 12,884 square meters of commercial property was vacant in the Hackney Wick and Fish Island area, most of this space being located at ground floor level.

About the Resilience Partner

Hackney Council is the Resilience Partner for this challenge, in partnership with Tower Hamlets Council and the London Legacy Development Corporation. The three authorities have invested in joint resources to address issues that are specific to the regeneration of Hackney Wick and Fish Island, including:

  • The appropriate provision of workspace throughout the redevelopment of the area, to ensure the retention of the local business community, and
  • The delivery of the Creative Enterprise Zone objectives, a programme funded by the Mayor of London to support the resilience of the creative sector.