Pay-as-you go factory


BLOQS, a new open-access factory in London’s Lea Valley, offers makers access to £1.3m worth of light industrial equipment on a pay-as-you-go-basis.

This includes wood processing & metal fabrication facilities, engineering mills and lathes, CNC machining, 3D printing, and sewing machines – catering for a range of professional makers across woodworking, metalworking, fashion, engineering, product design, event production, construction and architecture.

BLOQS provides workspace, education, and access to a huge range of high-end professional machines and equipment for the makers of today and tomorrow, giving tech the human touch. As much a community space as a physical place, BLOQS reflects the ethos at the centre of maker culture, where the intersection of open-access hardware and knowledge, sharing equity abounds.

With pay-as-you-go access, entrepreneurs can utilise this state-of-the-art equipment as and when they need it, eliminating the burden of fixed and high overhead costs, reflecting the increasing trend of the sustainable ‘sharing economy’, which is expected to be worth £140 billion by 2025*. It also reflects the growing public desire for bespoke items, or products manufactured with a lower carbon footprint. Overall, eight out of ten consumers say that they would pay more for this.**

"BLOQS provides the missing link for solopreneurs and SMEs seeking to bridge the gap between start-up and producing at scale," says Al Parra, Co-Founder at BLOQS. "Our space empowers, fostering growth that remains rooted in the community."

And that growth can be achieved sustainably; both in the business’ financial commitments, and environmental impact. Currently most manufacturing processes involve long international supply chains and invisible production which are almost inevitably environmentally unsustainable. “By making locally in a city, close to the makers’ end users, BLOQS offers a positive alternative”, adds Arnaud Nichols, fellow Co-Founder at BLOQS.

It’s not just being close to the end customer that’s sustainable, but also having more than 700 companies sharing one space. Arnaud Nichols adds: “It’s a matter of ratios. Our factory is 32,000 square feet. Hypothetically, if we vanished overnight, and a very conservative estimate of only a third of our members were forced to afford an average workshop, their combined footprint would cover roughly 200,000 square feet, with each workshop necessitating its own embodied energy expenditure for machinery, infrastructure, real estate, and a lifetime of energy use. That's a vast expenditure. Sharing is now an ecological imperative."

Sustainability has been designed into the BLOQS infrastructure itself. All energy from wood waste is recovered by a biomass boiler and used for space heating, central heating, and the building’s various hot water needs. And recently installed state-of-the-art solar panels to the roof provide 35% of the site’s electricity. These features and the facility’s usability and slick design all contributed to the recent RIBA Award wins**.

“BLOQS is a social enterprise whose purpose is the creation of social and economic capital for the communities it serves, whilst being frugal with the planet’s increasingly scares resources. We take environmental stewardship seriously, as we look to regenerate urban creative economies by seeding maker hubs where creatives can learn and thrive together” adds Parra.

“BLOQS answers a systemic need in cities for affordable workspace. The trend for commercial and industrial land to be turned into often more profitable and badly needed housing has put a squeeze on space for people to create. We’re bringing energy and opportunity to under-loved areas, to people who’ve been forgotten and under-valued. We’re not really building workshops”, adds Nichols. “What we’re doing is building a model for how resources can best be shared to achieve truly amazing things.”

An example of unleashing collective talent through community is BLOQS Create – an in house BLOQS design and fabrication service, that leverages the expertise of its pool of 700+ designers and makers to deliver multidisciplinary projects under one roof. Recent commissions have included, design-led modern public spaces such as an interactive child-friendly public streetscape in Palmers Green, to the wholesale refit of Fore Street Livingroom Library, and the Wandsworth Food Bus helping tackle issues of affordability and access to good quality food in deprived areas.

Imagery Copyright Claudia Agati