The Mill.Co Project

The Mill Co. Project (external link), a social enterprise provider of workspace, has been supported by the OIF to bring forward new affordable workspace, across three sites in the South Tottenham industrial area.

The Opportunity Investment Fund enabled them to create nearly 50,000 sq ft of commercial space which has led to dozens of jobs being created as famous artistic companies such as Punchdrunk and Block9 have moved into the area.

We met with Nick Hartwright, co-founder and director of The Mill Co. Project, to find out how the OIF has helped him.

Why the name?

It came from a background of mills in Manchester. I used to make carpets in carpet mills and Claire, who co-founded The Mill Co. Project with me, is from Manchester known for its mills. Also, everything I do is projects, so it became another of my projects.

Why Tottenham?

It was a natural progression of growing the organisation. We started off with a site in Bethnal Green, and then a couple of sites in Hackney, and then in 2014 I took on our first site in Tottenham which is Gaunson House in Markfield Road. It’s a very affordable area and I found it a very interesting area which already had a grain of artistic and creative businesses going on. There are also good transport links and you can see the area is getting better and better. We’ll see what the next few years are going to bring…

How did you hear about the Opportunity Investment Fund?

Well, we were the very first pilot project for the OIF. I do a lot of work with the Greater London Authority and through the GLA the OIF came around. What has the OIF money been used for? With the money we fitted-out and opened three sites in Tottenham with a combined total of about 48,000 sq ft of space. And, as a result, we have brought companies to the area such as Styx bar and the famous Block9 and Punchdrunk, and these companies probably wouldn’t have been in Tottenham if I hadn’t had that original batch of OIF money to open these sites. Indirectly the money has also created many jobs as we’ve created the spaces for the employment to happen.

What do you particularly like about the OIF?

What’s good about it is that it’s aimed at people who might find it difficult to obtain other types of finance. It’s structured in a way to help people rather than them going to a bank to try and re-finance something. So, in traditional finance it doesn’t really matter what you do with the money as long as you make the money, while something like the OIF is about growing that but also about making sure that what comes out of that is really good. Whether that’s employing local people or starting a local business that has some social good to it. It’s also great for encouraging growth in Tottenham which is brilliant for the area.

How have you found working with the council on the loan and wider business support?

I think the council is great. We have a really good working relationship with the people at the council who have been brilliant – from the licensing team to the guys in planning. We’ve found that Haringey is a very supportive borough for what we’re trying to do here.

Have you recommended the fund to other businesses?

Yes - and I think one of the best examples of that is Ten87 (providing creative workspaces for music and sound). We helped them with their studios in Gaunson House and then I spoke to them about the OIF money and they then created this fantastic space with Five Miles just down the road, and now they’re looking at using OIF money for another site. Seeing them benefit from the Opportunity Investment Fund is just brilliant.

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

I think it’s creating these artistic communities and bringing people together. I’m not particularly creative in the traditional sense but I like creating platforms for other people and I get a kick out of seeing people being successful with what that they are doing. So, seeing somebody who has an idea and is able to develop that idea into a business and perhaps spark something with another person through a conversation and that turn into something is what I really enjoy.

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