Businesses in railway arches in Brixton and Herne Hill will be marking Arch Day 2020 and the #loveyourlocalarches campaign on Saturday (29 August) with special discounts and other offers. The aim of Arch Day is to encourage local people to support the small businesses, from breweries to vehicle repair shops, running from railway arches.
Hanging in there – how BlocFit got through lockdown
One of the businesses taking part in Arch Day is BlocFit, based on Coldharbour Lane and run by Dave Culver. It is one of London’s leading climbing gyms.
Dave, who is also a local landscaper, moved in late last year and opened in February – so was almost immediately hit by lockdown.
“2019/20 has been a really traumatic business year,” he says. “I was sub-letting a property on a gentleman’s agreement and when The Arch Company took over the railway arches, my landlord was asked to agree a new contract that recognised the sub-let agreement.
“Instead, he evicted me.
“I’d worked really hard to build up the business and establish BlocFit as a climbing brand. It was like the rug was just pulled out from beneath me.”
With some help from The Arch Company’s property management team, and a little luck, Dave was able to move into a new arch property on Coldharbour Lane and restart the business.
He says: “Yvette and Warren, our property team, have been amazing. They did nothing but help me during those difficult months.
“It was very stressful, and my wife was six months pregnant with our second child at the time, but once I saw the new arch and they helped me to get a lease in place, I could start rebuilding, one step at a time.”
Dave dismantled the climbing walls and strength equipment he had installed in his previous property and moved it over to the new gym.
With additional investment for some new bouldering, Dave feels he now has the best community climbing gym in London.
BlocFit started in 2014 when Dave took up personal training after growing bored by his bodybuilding hobby.
He started offering strength training specifically designed to help climbers after being invited to rent space at The Reach, London’s biggest climbing wall.
“There was no gym dedicated to climbers then,” he says.
The loyal community of climbers Dave worked with at The Reach followed him across South London to his first BlocFit gym and many have stayed with him through the fight to keep the business on its feet.
The climbing gym reopened in mid-February and was ticking along nicely until, a month later, the Covid-19 lockdown happened.
Dave says: “I’ve built a good community of climbers and I have lots of connections to South London, so it was important to me to stay in the area.
“When the arch in Brixton came up it was the perfect opportunity, in a great location and a part of London I know well through my other work.
“Once we moved across things were going well, we’d started to get out in the community and spread the message that we’d reopened.
“Then Covid-19 hit, and we had to shut for four months.
“I was thinking ‘typical, how’s your luck.’
“After the stress of being evicted it was the last thing I needed, and I was really worried it could be the end of the business.
“I had to shut the gym and focus on my landscaping, so the rent freeze that The Arch Company offered was a fantastic help. If I’d had to keep paying rent I probably would have had to close permanently.”
BlocFit re-opened its doors when the government lockdown for gyms eased at the end of July.
Dave has adapted the business with a new advance booking system, cleaning regimes and more ventilation to circulate fresh air around the arch.
“Our biggest concern is that people are a bit nervous about coming back,” says Dave.
“We’ve made lots of changes to make the gym Covid-safe and, as a smaller gym, we’re ideal for people who are looking for somewhere a bit quieter to train – our booking system means we have a maximum of 16 people training with us at any one time.
“We offer a much more personal experience and training that’s suited to each individual.
“The most important next step for us is to get out in the community and get noticed so that people know we’re here.
“We’ve stuck it out during a really rocky year and now we hope, with a bit of support from our community, we can come through the other side.”
More arches taking part
Other local Arch Company tenants in the area who are involved with the campaign include:
Fison Fitness at 280 Milkwood Road, Herne Hill run by Anne Fison and Joe Payton, which grew out of a local community training programme. They were looking to set up a second studio, but have had to put this on hold because of the pandemic.
Dwaynamics, the inspirational campaign combatting knife crime and gang culture through sport from an Arch in Loughborough Junction.
Stella Exclusive – Atlantic Road, Brixton – Stella is a long-term tenant in the arches at Brixton and is one of those who returned following refurbishment.
Café Max – The long-term Brixton favourite Portuguese snack bar and restaurant.
Lark – 317 Railton Road, Herne Hill – A gift and fashion shop in a refurbished arch on Railton Road. Lark was due to open in May, but had to delay this until July because of the pandemic.