Property guardians: when private security becomes precarious housing

By Mara Ferreri, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, Gloria Dawson, Independent researcher, and Alexander Vasudevan, University of Nottingham  

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Figure 1. Camelot’s ‘Protects by Occupation’ sign, North London. Source: M Ferreri

On 27 September 2016 a group of squatters occupied a vacant building in Shoreditch, East London. While not unusual in itself, the event was widely reported in local and national media because, with calculated irony, the occupiers had reclaimed the former headquarters of an international property security company, Camelot Europe. The company, with offices in six cities in the United Kingdom, specialises in a little-known yet growing form of property security through live-in guardians, also known as property guardianship. The squatters, who renamed the place ‘Camesquat’, hoped that the occupations would help “highlight the issues around property guardianship, and the rise in this new, precarious form of housing, first introduced to the UK by Camelot themselves” (SQUASH, 2016). So what are the issues with property guardianship and why do they matter for understanding contemporary cities?

Property guardianship (PG) is a relatively new form of insecure urban dwelling, existing in the grey area between informal occupation, the security industry, and housing. PG was first developed in the Netherlands by “anti-kraak” (anti-squat) companies in the 1990s and has since spread to other European countries, including France, Belgium, Germany and Ireland. Our paper ‘Living precariously: property guardianship and the flexible city’ is the first in-depth geographical study of PG in the UK that combines a study of the sector with an analysis of the lived experiences of guardians. Our research found that while until the mid-2000s the PG market in the UK had been dominated by large companies like Camelot, since the global financial crisis of 2007/2008 the sector has seen something of a boom. At least 22 out of 32 companies currently offering PG were founded after 2009 and growth in the sector is expected to continue. A high proportion of these companies operate mainly or exclusively in London, because of both a highly dynamic property market and high housing demand at a time of a double crisis of supply and affordability (Dorling, 2014).

As widely promoted by PG companies, the appeal to guardians is that of enjoying housing below market rent and often in central and ‘unusual’ locations, such as office blocks or civic buildings. However, guardians are bound by license agreements (not tenancies) that stipulate a number of restrictions on residents’ use of the premises, such as hosting friends overnight or having dependants, as well as a shorter notice period than a standard Assured Short-hold Tenancy agreement (AST). Crucially, as licensees, guardians do not enjoy exclusive possession of the buildings they inhabit (Hunter and Peaker, 2012) and are exposed to unannounced inspections and other forms of surveillance, and to the constant threat of having their licence terminated, leading to eviction. These conditions make living as a property guardian ambivalent and controversial, requiring a nuanced and qualitative approach to guardians’ rationales and experiences.

In our paper, we analyse these experiences through the narratives of guardians and their everyday precarious geographies. In-depth interviews with thirty-two long-term guardians in London reveal that choosing to live through PG can bring economic and professional advantages in a competitive job market. Guardians, who are often university educated, were able to change careers, afford unpaid or low-paid entry-level jobs or engage in further education. At the same time, everyday housing insecurity compounded by precarious work, exposed deep anxieties about the realities of ‘flexible urban living’, with many experiencing high levels of stress and the fear of being unable to leave a self-reinforcing cycle of precarity. In fact, critiques of the scheme are often met by guardians with resignation toward the lack of more secure alternatives, pointing to a much wider cultural and political acceptance of work and housing insecurity.

While the scheme so far only affects a minority of city dwellers, we argue that the logic underlying PG needs to be understood as an example of an emerging precarious subjectivity that has become normalised in response to wider dynamics of work and life precarisation in the global North. This normalization occurs alongside wider socio-economic shifts in urban centres. In London, in particular, guardians have been used to secure ‘unusual’ property in the context of a wider restructuring of the welfare state. For example, PG has been deployed by local government to secure council estates slated for demolition or privatisation (London Assembly, 2015), a process that further exacerbates the crisis of truly affordable housing in the capital. Our study of property guardianship shows the city as a site of intensified insecurity where uncertain work, life and housing co-constitute and reinforce new forms of urban precarity. While occupations such as Camesquat are useful in highlighting the iniquities that underpin PG, a geographical approach enables us to bring together a political economy critique with an understanding of the subjective dimension of the normalization of work and life insecurity in contemporary cities.

About the authors: Mara Ferreri is an urban researcher working at the intersection of human geography, politics and cultural theory, working at the Institut de Govern i Polítiques Públiques, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain;  Gloria Dawson is an Independent Researcher, based in Leeds; and Alexander Vasudevan is Associate Professor Cultural and Historical Geography at the University of Nottingham. 

References

books_icon Dorling, D. (2014). All that is solid: How the great housing disaster defines our times, and what we can do about it. London: Penguin UK.

books_icon Ferreri, M., Dawson, G. and Vasudevan, A. (2016), Living precariously: property guardianship and the flexible city. Trans Inst Br Geogr. doi:10.1111/tran.12162

books_icon Hunter, C. and Peaker, G. (2012) Who guards the guardians, Journal of Housing Law 297, 16.

books_icon London Assembly (2015) Knock it Down or Do it Up? The challenge of estate regeneration. London: Greater London Authority.

60-world2 Orbis Property guardians white paper 

60-world2 SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes) (2016) Camesquat Press Release – 3 October 2016.

60-world2Taylor D 2016 London protesters occupy former HQ of property management firmThe Guardian Online 27 September 2016

 

Trumping Ignorance: Engaging with Complexity and Difficult Topics

By Kieran Phelan, University of Nottingham 

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As the news came through that Donald Trump had been successful in beating Hillary Clinton to the White House, the world stood in shock. No matter which side of the political divide you positioned yourself on, it’s fair to say that his success was surprising. In fact, during the run up to the election, most of the professional pollsters, pundits and political hacks predicted the contrary. On the morning of the day after, I sat (in a state of shock) listening to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. The presenters were dissecting the results and exploring the political ramifications of the incoming presidential regime. As part of this discussion, an attempt was made to summarise the contemporary geo-political situation Trump will inherit. The discussants reviewed Trump’s campaign strategy and mused over his many (misleading) statements. What haunted most of them was the slogan that dogged his campaign; ‘Make America Great Again’. Behind this, a grab-bag of diverse political groups somehow successfully appropriated this tag line and legitimised their own varying political agendas. Something so simple had morphed into something more complex. Despite this apparent complexity, Trump became an expert in avoiding detail. The how’s, what’s and why’s were rarely (if at all) addressed. In fact, the whole election campaign seemed overwhelmingly shallow. Frustrated with immigration? ‘Let’s build a wall’. Outright racism and xenophobia? ‘Freedom of speech’. Everyday sexism and misogyny? ‘Locker room talk’. Discussions that should have been about policy, ideas and agendas seemed worryingly to descend into bumper sticker phrases.

Unfortunately, American politics doesn’t have a monopoly on simplistic political debate. The EU referendum debate had discussion points that were equally narrow.  Concerned about immigration? ‘Get out the EU’. Questioning national sovereignty? ‘Get out of the EU’. Worried about competition, wages and investment? ‘Get out of the EU’.  Again, complex concerns boiled down into an overly simplistic decision; in or out. Theresa May’s‘Brexit means Brexit’ slogan beholds a similarly elusive quality. Yet when trying to understand what Brexit actually entails, we are too often left in the dark. Where on earth are the details? Where is the time for thought, and spaces for meaningful contemplation? It seems if it doesn’t easily fit onto a poster, or in a newspaper column, viral infomercial, or a political broadcast, it just isn’t worth mentioning.

With these political thoughts in mind, I sat down and read Luchs and Miller’s (2016) article exploring participatory visual methodologies for engaging with refugee stories. Utilising personal stories from three refugees who fled persecution in Rwanda and Zimbabwe, they powerfully advocated for the use of digital stories, photo-essays, mixed media collages and workshops in geographical work.  In adopting these methodologies, they produced ‘Mapping Memories’, a touring educational project that enabled understanding about the lives and experiences of refugee youth. By uniting with educators, film makers and policy advocates, Luchs and Miller (2016) explain how scholar-activism can aid refugees to tell of their own experiences on their own terms. In doing so, spaces are created that cultivate supportive environments for reflection and engagement. There was a deep desire to ensure audiences walked away with an understanding of the challenges young refugee face, as well an appreciation of the obligations countries have who’ve signed up to the Refugee Convention of 1951. Contrary to much news coverage, helping refugees is not an act of charity that we can choose to opt in or out. It is a duty that we are legally bound to uphold. It does not matter what their age is, or their ‘worthiness’ of help, but simply the recognition that they are refugees fleeing desperate situations.

This project was naturally challenged by ethical concerns, of which the authors thoughtfully engaged. Not least, the authors desired to ensure the topic was covered in a sensitive and respectful manner. Efforts were taken to ensure violence was not depicted as an act of the ‘other’, and they didn’t want to present personal stories from ‘victims’ and context by ‘experts’. Stereotypes and lazy troupes were also directly tackled through open-ended questioning and conversational interrogation. In this, appreciating that thinking takes time and needs space, was a central concern.

Part of the project’s success also was attributed to the use of entry stories; short introductions that drew out commonalities. Rather than dwelling on what separated participants, the project worked on creating spaces in which participants found likeness. From likeness, came empathy and from empathy came thought and reflection. More powerfully, the project disrupted the marginalising discourses that surrounds refugees, and enabled the project’s participants to move beyond a simplistic ‘poor them’ mentality. In doing so, it hoped to inspire awareness and political action. It facilitated engagement and provided accessible space for much needed nuance and complexity.

As I return to my news feeds, I see it is filled with three minute videos, images and memes attempting to explain away Trump’s election. They all attempt to capture, in just a few short sound-bites, what on earth went wrong (or right, depending on your political position). Whilst all of us who are politically active, are guilty from time to time of lazy activism, I can’t help but think perhaps this is part of the problem. It is lazy. In sharing and re-sharing our quick, three-minute sound bites, , we perpetuate politics on those terms. The voices we hear from are often limited, lacking in diversity. As a result, the engagement we have with the ‘real’ issues is often reduced. It lacks deep reflection. The world is incredibly complex and requires meaningful thought. When engaging with the political realities of the world, we owe it to ourselves to create spaces of deep reflection and engagement. We must ask the tough questions, pry open and debate the difficult, and relish the challenging. Instead of relying on superficial surface statements, we must strive to create spaces for meaningful understanding and engagement. It’s only through muddling through the messy and difficult, appreciating both depth and nuance, that then can we lay the foundations to trump ignorance.

60-world2 Cormier, R (2016) Meet the Man Behind Biden-Pranking-Trump Memes  USA Today 17 November 2016

books_icon Luchs, M. and Miller, E. (2016), Not so far away: a collaborative model of engaging refugee youth in the outreach of their digital stories. Area, 48: 442–448. doi:10.1111/area.12165

60-world2 Mason P (2016) Brexit is a fake revolt- working-class culture is being hijacked to help the elite The Guardian Online 20 June 2016

60-world2 Poole S (2016) ‘Make America Great Again’ – why are liberals losing the war of soundbites? The Guardian Online  13 November 2016

60-world2 Spayd L (2016) Why ‘Locker Room Talk’ is No Excuse New York Times 8 November 2016

 

 

Speaking for science: does it matter how and where?

By Diarmid Finnegan, Queen’s University Belfast

Company: ArcSoft (hangzhou)

A diagram used to demonstrate the art of ‘chironomia,’ a system of gestures suitable for oratory taught to Michael Faraday by the elocutionist Benjamin Smart. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chironomia_Sphere.jpg Image in the public domain and out of copyright.

During every American election season, pundits find something to say about the way Presidential candidates speak. Perhaps more than ever before, the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump invited this kind of attention. Trump’s hand gestures and Hillary Clinton’s voice were just two aspects of their campaign speeches that were closely scrutinised. Psychologists, journalists and media coaches all offered their take on the nonverbal strategies and automatic reflexes of the two nominees. One expert in embodied cognition even counted the number of times Trump sniffed during the second presidential debate (answer: 104). If nothing else, fixation on these dimensions of the live performances of Trump and Clinton demonstrated public appetite for close descriptions of their voices and body language.

However difficult it may be to demonstrate the influence of vocal performance over voting patterns, there is a long history of political speechmakers and their critics drawing heavily on the arts of oratory. But what happens when we look not at political argumentation but at efforts to persuade live audiences of the importance of science? Should any significance be placed on the voice and body language of the science communicator? One understandable reaction is to say no. After all, the truth of scientific claims is not supposed to be measured according to emotional resonance or alignment with public tastes or political convictions. Science, as one early historian of the Royal Society put it, should be communicated with ‘mathematical plainness’ (Sprat 1667).

It might be surprising to learn, then, that one of the most celebrated science communicators in the nineteenth century, Michael Faraday, argued that lectures ‘depend entirely for their value upon the manner in which they are given. It is not the matter, it is not the subject, so much as the man’. Among other things, this reflected a career-long engagement with the arts of oratory. It is perhaps yet more surprising to find Thomas Henry Huxley, the famous nineteenth-century exponent of science as trained common sense, pointing out that less than a tenth of Faraday’s audiences understood him. According to Huxley, the crucial thing was that most thought they had grasped Faraday’s meaning. Huxley was convinced that the intellectual value of lectures was extremely low. Why, then, did both Faraday and Huxley invest huge amounts of energy in delivering lectures to non-specialist audiences? As I argue in a paper published in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, both Faraday and Huxley were acutely aware of the power of speech to nurture sympathy for science and to support an agenda that placed science within a wider vision of social progress. Huxley declared on a number of occasions that he held oratorical techniques in contempt, but he also realized that the living voice could be used as a powerful means for swaying public opinion. There are good reasons, then, to reflect on how Faraday and Huxley used the power of voice and non-verbal action to persuade audiences of the relevance and public value of science.

Taking seriously the lecture performances of Faraday and Huxley also means taking seriously where they spoke. In basic terms, Faraday rarely spoke anywhere else than the lecture hall of the Royal Institution in London. Huxley, by contrast, travelled extensively. Faraday’s style of speaking, which included carefully choreographed gestures and vocal performances, was well suited for an auditorium custom designed for science lectures. Huxley’s manner and mode of address – standing stock still and speaking extemporaneously – remained constant even as he moved from one venue to another. This, of course, does not exhaust the geography of these speech events. Both Huxley and Faraday took care to position themselves within a wider landscape of oratorical performance. Their efforts to speak with influence, and assessments of those efforts, reflected unique combinations of expectations and assumptions about what constituted effective communication. Their lectures on science also helped forge novel spaces of speech that had influence beyond their own particular sphere.

Cultural and historical geographers, among others, have paid increasing attention to where and how any kind of ‘live talk’ is delivered and heard. An undergirding argument is that speech performance of whatever kind is closely tied to the place in which it unfolds. That this turns out to be true for talk about science lends special support to this argument. At least in the case of Faraday and Huxley, there was no single way to persuade an audience of the virtues, values and veracity of science. The voice, and the body, had to be mobilized in different ways and in different cultural locations to win an audience’s sympathy and assent.

About the author: Dr Diarmid Finnegan is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University, Belfast. His research interests fall within three main themes: (1) Science, space and culture; (2) Historical geographies of ideas; and (3) History of geographical knowledge. 

60-world2 BBC News 2016, August 16. What Trump’s hand gestures say about him BBC News. Retrieved November 17, 2016

60-world2 Beattie, G. 2016, October 14. How Donald Trump bullies with his body language.  The Conversation, Retrieved November 17, 2016

books_icon Finnegan, D. A. 2016,  ‘Finding a scientific voice: performing science, space and speech in the 19th century’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers DOI: 10.1111/tran.12159

60-world2 Khazan, O. 2016, August 1. Would you really like Hillary more if she sounded different? The Atlantic, Retrieved November 17, 2016

books_icon Sprat, T. 1667, The History of the Royal Society of London. London.

Islamic leaders and Islamic law – a conundrum?

By Christine G Schenk, University of Geneva

Aceh_Schenk.jpg

Image credit: (c) Christine Schenk

Islamic law and Islamic leaders are often portrayed as a cohesive, inflexible block. But engagements with Islamic law and Islamic leaders are highly diverse as debates and initiatives around Islam, gender and feminism show (see the blog Muslims in Interwar Europe). My article, recently published in The Geographical Journal, highlights the diversity and reflexivity of Islamic leaders. Internal deliberations among Islamic leaders can not only reconcile co-existent laws but also different religious schools of thought in many Muslim societies. These deliberations are particularly important, for example, in legal reforms on family law (see the network Women living under Muslim laws).

The article examines deliberations among Islamic leaders adhering to the Shafi school (Sunni Islam) on family law in Aceh, Indonesia between 2006 – 2008. This reform was particularly contentious as family law regulates, among other duties, marriages and aims to provide legal security, especially to women. But due to nearly 30 years of conflict between the Aceh Free Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) and the Central Government of Indonesia, and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, family law was hardly implemented. The civil administration was dormant, while Acehnese communities were governed by Islamic law and customary law.

In the process of legal reform, Islamic leaders considered the regulation of families as an intrusion of state bureaucracy into community affairs. In turn, Islamic leaders resisted calls to administer legal reform in their function as political partners within the Acehnese government. A cross-societal dialogue, facilitated by an aid agency and lobby groups, served to disentangle resistance against such legal reforms through internal deliberation. Consultation and interpretation of Islamic texts, such as the Quran, turned out to be a key element in reconciling different religious schools and co-existent laws.

Debates around gender, human rights and Islam receive pronounced attention in places that have been affected by conflict, crises and/or disaster (further information is available, for example, at Flower Aceh, and Sisters in Islam). My article argues that we need to consider the dynamics of law-making outside of Western democracies to obtain more nuanced understandings of the varieties of legal geographies across the globe.

About the author: Christine Schenk is PhD within the Department of Geography and Environment at the University of Geneva. 

books_icon Schenk, C. G. (2016), Islamic leaders and the legal geography of family law in Aceh, Indonesia. The Geographical  Journal. doi:10.1111/geoj.12202

Running: In the gym or in the park?

By Eimear Kelly, Queen Mary University of London

running_man_kyle_cassidy

Runner in Chicago. Photo Credit: Kyle Cassidy CC-BY-SA 3.0

Running and whether it is better to do it indoors or outdoors is an issue frequently debated. Which will give you a better workout? Which is more enjoyable? Which is safer?

A BBC article notes that outdoor running has been seen as the better workout as it requires more energy because of wind resistance. However, a study from the University of Exeter found that indoor runners who set the treadmill to a 1% gradient could match the energy expended by outdoor runners. But outdoor running was found to be more enjoyable and better for your mental health, particularly if through green spaces.

The question of safety has been explored from an injury standpoint. In a Time article, Dr. Irene Davis argues that running on a treadmill or a flat long stretch of road or pathway increases the risk of overuse injury. In comparison, running outdoors on varied surfaces, and having to change speed and stride in response to hills or corners is safer as you won’t overload the same tendon or muscle.

Safety has also been explored through a focus on gender. Runner’s World recently found in a survey of 4,670 runners, that 43 per cent of women at least sometimes experience harassment while running outdoors, in comparison to 4 per cent of men. They found that women were more likely to consider the safety of their running route, whether it was light outside during their run and whether there were other people on their route.

However, a recent article in Transactions exploring how recreational runners come to run either inside on a treadmill or outside on paths, found that runners were usually not considering questions of higher energy expenditure, enjoyment, or safety of the competing environments. The research with a group of indoor runners and a group of outdoor runners found that both groups often initially established their running routines by chance, which then became permanent. The runners became very attached to their routines and environments, and did not like to question or reflect on this too much. They usually did not want to veer from their already established running plan, as this could result in them not continuing with their running habit which they saw as a positive aspect of their lives.

While the ideal run was seen by both groups as being outdoors, both groups felt that the opposing environment would require them to think more when they ran, which would not be relaxing. And while the outdoor runners felt that they had the superior environment, they also had ideas about how their environment could be improved. In comparison, the indoor runners struggled to think of improvements, and were arguably more content. However, over the course of the research, two of the indoor runners tried running outdoors, evidence that talking about the possibilities of running outside encouraged some to try it. The researchers found that how people talked about their running, what they wanted to talk about and what they avoided, which questions made them excited or anxious, provided insight into how habits of running indoors and outdoors were maintained.

60-world2 Hamilton, M. (2016) ‘Running while femaleRunners World. Retrieved 6 November 2016

60-world2 Heid, M. (2014) ‘You asked: Is running on a treadmill as good as running outside?Time. Retrieved 6 November 2016

books_icon Hitchings, R. and Latham, A. (2016) ‘Indoor versus outdoor running: understanding how recreational exercise comes to inhabit environments through practitioner talkTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers doi: 10.1111/tran.12138

60-world2 Mosley, M. (2016) ‘Is it better to run outside or on a treadmill?BBC. Retrieved 6 November 2016

 

 

 

 

Wildfires and burning management

By Joseph J. Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

Wildfires often occur as part of a natural cycle and they are important for the health of many ecosystems across the world by making the soil more suitable for seeding, for example. Indeed, many species (especially plants) have specific adaptations to wildfires such as fire-activated seeds and thermal insulation, while others rely on fires clearing space for their seedlings to grow (e.g. S. giganteum). The cause of wildfires may be natural or human-mediated (more information), and burning vegetation to make space for agricultural land, and as a means of managing natural fires, is common in many parts of the world (FAO).

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center Archive: Fire and Smoke, Democratic Republic of the Congo (NASA, International Space Station, 05/16/02) obtained via Flickr under a CreativeCommons License (link to source).

Two key processes have the potential to increase the severity of wildfires in the future. First, global warming is likely to increase their intensity and duration as dry areas become drier and the length of the wildfire season increases. In fact, it has been reported that the area affected by wildfires has doubled in the western USA since the 1980s. Second, urbanisation has recently been linked to the potential for more damaging fires in Africa because of fewer traditional controlled burns in rural areas early in the wildfire season, leading to a build-up of dry vegetation (Archibald, 2016; Sci Dev Net, 2016).

We are, therefore, in a position where wildfires are likely to become an ever greater threat to human livelihoods and wellbeing. A recent article in The Geographical Journal (Caillault et al., 2015) discusses burning management in Burkina Faso, with a focus on ‘bad fires’, which are those that occur late in the season and degrade the Savannah. The authors highlight how policy has been slow to recognise the value of traditional fire management practices. These practices were once actively suppressed, but the advantages are now generally well-known. In spite of this, there are still some difficulties because of “the difference in perspective between rural land managers and policymakers” and “the lack of integration of the human dimensions of fire into fire science and ecology“, which are significant because policymakers are influenced by fire science, as detailed by Caillault et al. (p. 376). New ecological perspectives offer support for the importance of fire in Savannah landscapes towards the development of environmental policies and management rules in West Africa.

In line with this effort, Caillault et al. conduct a space-time analysis of fire in western Burkina Faso. They use remote sensing data from MODIS combined with field data, concluding that the spatial and temporal dimensions of burning are important aspects to understand regarding local and regional fire management. A regularity in the burning regime was recognised in relation to people, meaning that fire cannot be seen purely as a biophysical variable when considering its impacts on the Savannah: human practices shape this landscape as well. The fire practices observed were consistent, and not haphazard as is sometimes the perception, and they usually occurred early in the season, which has significant policy implications.

When we consider that wildfires are likely to worsen in coming years, a greater understanding of the spatio-temporal dynamics locally and regionally will be essential for fire management policy. This necessitates understanding human and physical processes, as part of a truly geographical approach, the likes of which is demonstrated by Caillault et al.

References

books_icon Archibald, S. (2016). Managing the human component of fire regimes: lessons from Africa. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 371 (1696), p.20150346. [Associated Sci Dev Net news article]

books_icon Caillault, S., Ballouche, A. and Delahaye, D. (2015). Where are the ‘bad fires’ in West African savannas? Rethinking burning management through a space–time analysis in Burkina Faso. The Geographical Journal, 181 (4), pp.375-387.

60-world2 Mosbergen D 2016 Climate Change is Fueling America’s Wildfires, and it’ll only get worse The Huffington Post 

60-world2 UCSUSA 2016 Is Global Warming Fuelling Increased Wildfire Risks? 

Café nation? Growth and change in the UK café industry

Dr Jennifer Ferreira, Coventry University

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Photo credit: Dr Jennifer Ferreira

Walk down any UK high street and you are likely to be faced with a suite of café options from a series of high street chains, independent cafes, to fast food outlets offering café beverages.

The café industry is one of the most successful retail sectors in the UK experiencing significant growth over the last decade, with over 20,000 outlets across the country and estimated to potentially rise to 27,000 by 2020. Visiting cafes has now become commonplace for many in the UK, and their presence on the high street is creating a range of dynamics in different urban spaces.

My paper titled ‘Café nation? Exploring the growth of the UK café industry’, recently published in the journal Area, examines why the café industry has grown so much and considers some of the implications this is having on UK urban spaces. While its main aim was to provide an overview of the café industry in the UK, more importantly it highlights why more research is needed on the many facets of the café industry as part of a new economic and social geography of urban spaces; from the impact they have on the communities in which they are located, to the plethora of business forms that are emerging as part of the industry.

The presence of cafes in the UK is not a new phenomenon, in fact the café has a much longer history going right back to the 17th century (Green 2013). Although, it wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s where the growth began to gain pace with the introduction of the high street chains with which we are all now so familiar. While the market may be dominated by the ‘big three’ Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero, the make-up of the café industry is actually very diverse and is made up of different types of organisations, networks and business models, particularly within the independent sector. This paper presents an illustrative typology of the different café types in the UK as a starting point for future work on the impact of cafés.

One of several drivers of the growth for the café industry has been a growing awareness of high quality coffee, and as a consequence, there has been an explosion of speciality coffee shops and roasters in recent years. With a wider range of expertly blended, or single origin coffees, combined with a suite of different brewing methods, from the aeropress to the syphon, there is now more on offer for the coffee connoisseur than ever before – as evidenced by a growing number of speciality coffee guides to different regions in the UK.

At the same time alternative business models have emerged, for example, an international chain that has a growing presence in the UK is Ziferblat, where customers pay for the time they spend, rather than the products they consume. Providing spaces for people to meet, work, socialise and so on, these café spaces are providing much more than a standard café, they offer a social space.

These are just two vignettes of activity that are taking place in the café industry in the UK, and while some are explored in my article, the paper very much acts as a starting point to argue that much more research is needed to explore the UK as a ‘café society’ (Tjora and Scambler 2014).

About the author: Dr Jennifer Ferreira is a Senior Research Assistant in the Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University. The research presented in Jennifer’s Area article is part of wider project on the role of cafes in urban spaces – Spaces of Community – you can find out more about this project on the research blog ‘Café Spaces’.

books_icon Ferreira J 2016 Café nation? Exploring the growth of the UK café industry Area doi:10.1111/area.12285

books_icon Allegra Strategies 2015 Project Café 2015, Allegra Strategies

60-world2 Green M 2013 The lost world of the London Coffee House.

60-world2 Brian’s Coffee Spot. Available at: http://www.brian-coffee-spot.com/

60-world2 The Independent Coffee Guide http://www.indycoffee.guide/