Story of Village Underground

Auro Foxcroft

My name is Auro Foxcroft. I run Village Underground which is a part of what you can see here. It is a not-for-profit studio space that we have built from recycled train carriages and shipping containers. We rent them out at affordable rate to mostly young people setting up creative industries, businesses or cultural organizations. We have got filmmakers, VJs, musicians, artists, illustrators, writers, poets, architects, graphic designers, theatre companies and pretty much everybody else in between.

It is also coupled with a building. We are on a roof of the building at the moment and downstairs we run cultural events, live music, quite a lot of bits of theatre, exhibitions. And that is in conjunction with commercial work. Today we have got film shoot happening in there. It is the commercial site of the organization which supports the not-for-profit site of the organization. In that way it is a social enterprise project.

The project started life as an idea to create affordable studio space for creative people. And what is particular to London is that there is a lot of creative people here and space for them to work is very expensive. London is really expensive city.

So it started of from a point of view that if space is too expensive for creative industries and for the arts to exist then we can do a small change by making some affordable space. So we reused the trains and we reused the shipping containers there. And in that way we made a space that was useful for people setting up a new businesses and new organizations.

What is not particular to London and what is common to probably most places is that the creative people there would like to work together. So the second point was that we would set up a community. And in that way people can share their knowledge, their ideas, their resources, contacts, the work that they do. For example the graphic designer here might work with web designer and two of them might help the fashion designer set up the new organization. Or somebody doing video work here, who makes films will perhaps help the theatre companies in filming bits of their show.

So it is this kind of community that works together and then the sum is greater then its parts. It is very powerful and important thing for supporting arts and creative industries to trying facilitate the community.

So this was the starting point. We searched around the London for about a year and half for lots of different sites that we might run the project from. We had some really far West London, some really far out East London and a few around here. And eventually this was the site that stuck and we are standing on an old railway viaduct from the nineteenth century. It is now being cut off. It has not been used for twenty years. So we got this section of it. We craned the trains are on top of the viaduct and now we are on a kind of raised island about eight meters of the ground. That was a turning point for the project because the space underneath this railway arching to the side here was a derelict warehouse which we then converted. And that new phase of a project brought in cultural activities and events and projects that are bigger than the studio spaces up here and the public come and see.

In 2006 we approached the municipality for this piece of land and we started to negotiate with them to use it for this not-for-profit project on basis that we would be supporting people to set up creative industries and arts and cultural organizations. And they saw the value in that for the area as a whole and for the creative infrastructure of London. It also has an effect for tourism and employment and business creation as well as the more obvious regeneration and arts and culture for people around here.

So that negotiation was maybe six months I suppose and the agreed to give us the site. We craned up the carriages in late 2006 and we worked on them for 7-8 months and opened the studios in Easter 2007. Simultaneously we were renovating the building downstairs and that has been a slow project. We got a licence to public events there. In 2009 things picked up from that point and we have a cultural programme running since then.

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Auro Foxcroft

Auro Foxcroft

Founder of Village Underground in London, United Kingdom

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