Re-purposed shipping container markets, such as Boxpark, Pop Brixton and Canada Water’s Hawker House, give hope for quick economic recovery of London’s local economy

Well before 2021, younger generations flocked regularly to converted container markets for shopping, socialising, eating, drinking and live music experiences. London boasts more than a dozen shipping container markets with hundreds of independent traders offering unique and often local produce. Boxpark in Shoreditch and Pop Brixton, a community project in partnership with the Lambeth Borough, are among the most well-known. 

Container markets offer cheaper and more flexible rental agreements to small and local businesses who have suffered particularly severely from repeated lockdowns.

Anneke Short, Co-Founder of the Camden Watch Company based at Boxpark in London, said:

“I can only see the trend of converted container shops increasing.  Covid-19 has accelerated the inevitable switch to online and large, expensive retail locations with long leases are a lot less attractive than they once were. Flexible spaces like shipping-container parks, that offer a real-world storefront that offer a real-world storefront but don’t cost the earth, are only going to grow in popularity”.

In September 2020, one in five small UK businesses said they don’t think that they would survive another lockdown, according to Simply Business. With a third lockdown already fully underway, creative and cost-efficient solutions to save businesses from Covid-19’s economic damage give hope. 

Converted container rental prices are usually less than half as expensive as traditional shops and associated business rates are accordingly lower. Flexible rental agreements offering quarterly and even monthly contracts help businesses adapt to potential further on-off lockdowns. In a post-pandemic world, this will prove truly valuable. 

We love the flexibility that a place like Boxpark offers. Retail leases are typically old-fashioned. You have to sign up for years, whereas container shops allow yearly, quarterly, and even monthly contracts. As a small business with a very close eye on cash-flow, that kind of flexibility is priceless,” Anneke adds.

Whilst container markets give hope to London’s local economy, few are aware that some of the earliest converted container markets originated in Central Asia. Markets such as Dordoi in Kyrgyzstan or Abu Saxiy in Uzbekistan have provided a lifeline to local economies since the early 2000s. 

In Kyrgyzstan, Dordoi’s container market has grown to become the country’s largest taxpayer and employer. Set up by Askar Salymbekov in 1991, it has developed into the largest market in Central Asia covering more than one million square metres. 

The Abu Saxiy market in Uzbekistan was founded in 2006 by Timur Tillyaev who pioneered the container innovation, transforming empty containers into fully functional shops with high safety standards including installed windows, light glass doors and a high-alert fire system. Local traders were quick to take advantage of this affordable alternative, and Abu Saxiy has grown into the 5th largest market in Central Asia, creating opportunities for more than 3,000 small businesses.

Speaking to Timur Tillyaev, he said: “Re-purposed shipping containers are an extremely cost-efficient option for traders and have been able to help the Central Asian retail economy grow massively. Today, Abu Saxiy provides employment to over 5,000 people and plays an essential part of the local Uzbek economy.”

This gives real reason to believe that London’s trendy container markets will be key to speeding up the economic recovery of London’s local businesses and could even help new businesses to thrive in and beyond 2021.

Fiona Donovan, Director of the Frame Hair Salon at Crate Loughton Market believes: “Businesses are at a point where rent and rates and additional costs are not sustainable and affordable so this hopefully increases the demand for more container complexes and people may feel more confident in opening a business. Container markets give entrepreneurs a chance to start up something they are passionate about.”