Preparing for opening day: Arding & Hobbs owner opts for distance from local community

9 mins read
Arding & Hobbs in November 2023 - Credit: CJI

In a few days, in time for the festive season, Arding & Hobbs will welcome visitors… or, to be more precise, part of the Arding & Hobbs building will be open to visitors.

Let us provide some update on what the developers have done.

On the left of TKMaxx, you will find the grand reception of the new building. A lengthy desk with a clear wood finish on the left and an elevator in the middle facilitates access to the upper floors, housing the office space. A tastefully restored dome and glass panels create an ideal environment for new offices. At the summit, a terrace adorned with potted plants offers a delightful view of the surroundings….

You might find the article somewhat artificial, and you would be correct. However, this is more or less the only thing that Sascha Lewin, CEO of W. Real Estate (W.RE) and owner of Arding & Hobbs, wanted us to say. To our surprise, we received a message the night before our scheduled visit stating, “I must ask you to not take photography or videos to be published“. This directive was unexpected, especially considering that capturing photos and videos to document construction progress had been our primary request for the past six months.

While words can be powerful, in the age of Instagram and YouTube, expectations are higher. Of course, we cancelled the meeting as it became apparent that we were not allowed to fully document the building. The owner seemed disappointed that we did not want to play their game, claiming against all evidence that they had been very cooperative.

Nonetheless, as you can see below, we still have a wealth of information to share regarding the fate of this iconic building.

Get ready: Botanica Restaurant is set to open its doors on November 15th

The ground floor is primarily dedicated to retail, with three tenants assigned to units A, B, and C, as indicated on the adjacent map..

Botanica Hall, located in Unit A, will be the first to welcome guests in just a few days, with an official opening date confirmed for November 15th. Their website is already up and running.

Botanica Hall is nearly ready – Credit: CJI

Botanica Hall aims to function not only as a restaurant but also as a cocktail bar and a hot desk offering fast Wifi, encouraging patrons to “just turn up, take a seat, and work away“. The premises will house a local distillery, producing and selling their own gin and vodka in collaboration with Tiny Tower Liquor. Additionally, they plan to organize masterclasses and cater to parties and events.

Inside Botanica Hall – Credit: CJI
Botanica Hall main entrance is getting ready – Credit: CJI

While not particularly budget-friendly, their menu includes a Margherita pizza for £11 and Spicy Ragu Tagliatelle for £14.50, comparable to prices at Pizza Express. They have a selection of desserts around £8. The establishment is poised to attract a trendy clientele of young professionals (some of whom may work in the office suites upstairs). Their cocktail bar boasts a diverse selection, including bespoke orders and party packages.

Botanica Hall will operate every day from 8 am (or 9 am on weekends) until late at night (12:30 am Monday to Thursday, 2:30 am Friday and Saturday, and 11 pm on Sunday).

Operated by Albion & East Limited, Botanica Hall is part of a chain of individual neighbourhood bars that cater to diverse needs throughout the day and night, from morning coffee and brunch to hot-desking during the day, and cocktails, wood-fired pizza, and DJs at night. Each restaurant is uniquely tailored to suit its local clientele and area.

As for the two other units, progress appears to be minimal at this time.

A luxury health club is set to occupy Unit C, with its entrance on Ilminster Gardens).

There are already a number of gym facilities in close proximity around Clapham Junction station. Immediately adjacent to the station an opposite to The Grand you have a FitnessFirst . Another one is located at the corner of Falcon Lane and Mossbury Road, just beside the Travelodge hotel. On Falcon Road you can get to Energie Fitness and on Grant road you have the home of CrossFit Shapesmiths in London. On St John’s hill you will find F45. And I am sure I am still missing some..!

However, Thirdspace is another level, the Rolls Royce of gym clubs.

The facility, the 12th club for the brand, will offer a comprehensive health club experience. The ground floor will feature a retail element selling sportswear and a fitness bar/restaurant. The majority of the basement will house a wet spa with a sunken massage jet hydropool, cold plunge pool, steam room, and a Himalayan sea salt-walled sauna. Additionally, personal training and classes like Reformer Pilates and Hot Yoga will be offered, with workout and recovery space on the first floor.

Thirdspace Soho – Credit: Thirdspace

Notably, Thirdspace will occupy part of the first floor, totaling 28,000 sq ft (2,600 sqm). This decision aligns with preferences expressed by the local community during the application stage, favoring business/retail over offices for the building’s first floor.

Thirdspace in Arding & Hobbs, first floor – Credit: Artist’s impression on Planning Application 2023/3804
Thirdspace in Arding & Hobbs, basement – Credit: Artist’s impression on Planning Application 2023/3804

Membership rates are anticipated to be in the range of £200-300 per person per month.

They have just started work before the weekend and the windows are now covered with white sheets. Thirdspace Clapham Junction is expected to open its doors in Spring/Summer 2004, coinciding with another planned location in Nine Elms.

Unit C will be occupied by Thirdspace, a luxury health club – Credit: CJI

Unit B took a bit longer to find a proper tenant.

Inside Unit B – Credit: CJI

Originally earmarked for Amazon Fresh (it was the first business to approach W.RE in the early stages of the development process), the online retail giant’s “contactless” stores have failed in the UK, with rumors suggesting a possible exit from the country.

As a consequence, W.RE have encountered difficulties in finding a tenant for Unit B, and, at the date of publishing, no official name has been disclosed.

Restoration work on Arding & Hobbs is now complete, with the latest interior decorations currently being installed

As we approach the end of the year, things are looking good for Arding & Hobbs. The exterior refurbishment is achieved and the splendid appearance of the structure is now visible to all.

From Lavender Hill, one can appreciate the cleaned and restored facade, showcasing the building’s magnificence.

View from Lavender Hill. The entire facade has been cleaned and restored – Credit: CJI
Facade on St John’s Road – Credit: CJI

On the Ilminster Gardens side, meticulous cleaning of bricks and restoration of all windows, including some stained glass designs, has taken place.

Window restoration in Ilminster side, view from the street – Credit: CJI
Window restoration in Ilminster side, view from inside – Credit: W.RE Instagram

Plants intended for the roof have been delivered and are being installed.

Plants are lifted to the roof – Credit: CJI

W.RE is gearing up for a public relations campaign to attract one or more tenants for the 75,000 sq ft of workspace, going from floor 2 to flor 5 (floor 4 and 5 being part of the elevation they built on the roof), once it is ready later this month. Access to the building is made from the reception located beside TKMaxx and which is already nearly completed and staffed (although no access allowed to the public).

Main entrance to access the office part of the building – Credit: CJI
The reception is almost completed and already staffed – Credit: CJI
The reception as initially planned by the architects – Credit: Stiff+Trevillion

The interior restoration has brought back the grandiose elements of the building.

Credit: Stiff+Trevillion

A bar for office tenants has been established under the dome on the third floor, while woodwork decorates the access to rooftop elements within the copper structure.

Bar located under the dome – Credit: Stiff+Trevillion
Inside the rooftop addition – Credit: montage CJI based on W.RE Instagram video
Credit: Screenshot of W.RE video on Instagram

Months of complaint from local residents

However, the significant rooftop addition has faced criticism from local residents. Petronella West, who lives in the area said she was pleased that the building has been renovated, but also emphasised that the developers misled them. She pointed out that assurances were given that residents would barely notice the elevation, yet the two-storey addition on top of the original roof has significantly impacted the area.

In reality, there is now a two-storey structure on top of the original roof, obstructing most of the light for adjoining properties. There are no windows, no plants, and no recess from the frontage of the building.

The 2-storey roof top is highly visible and blocking light in Ilminster Gardens – Credit: PW
Arding & Hobbs mockup – Credit: Video screenshot Stiff+Trevillion

The construction started one year ago and it made life very difficult for local residents in Ilminster Gardens. Complaints include the constant use of the street by lorries and builders, last-minute bookings of heavy vehicles and cranes, resulting in late notices and parking issues.

Residents reported more than 20 workers on Sunday mornings, causing noise disturbances and parking challenges. Another day they were removing scaffoldings at 10pm. Mrs West highlighted the frustration over constant parking restrictions and the apparent disregard for permit regulations by developers.

Construction lorries blocking the street on a daily basis – Credit: PW

A developer reluctant to get involved with the community

Clapham Junction is characterised by two iconic features: its train station, often branded as the busiest interchange in Europe, and the iconic building of Arding & Hobbs. The elegant and prominent landmark has been in the neighbourhood since 1885, and to say that it is now intricately embroidered in the local community is an understatement.

Many will remember with nostalgia going inside what has been a department store for the last 135 years to get their clothes and other elements for their home. It was a public venue in its first meaning: being public and welcoming all members of the community.

If it was initially the intention of W.RE, it seems to have changed as the project was progressing, and they were considering financial data, marketing strategy, and return on investment.

Since the beginning of the project, it has always been very difficult to get any feedback from W.RE. A dozen emails and phone calls from February to April 2023 eventually led to the opportunity to talk to Mr Lewin, which eventually provided material for an article updating about the progress on Arding and Hobbs redevelopment.

From our initial contact in February,  asking for an opportunity “to visit the workplace and take photos from inside, showing how it is all taking place“, it was first responded that for health and safety reason on the construction site, it would be difficult. When asked about it during our conversation in April, Sascha Lewin answered that he “did not see why not“, although later in Spring, as they were finishing some major construction and it could be quite messy at the time of our discussion.

The opportunity did not materialise as W.RE then decided to ignore our numerous contact requests before summer and this autumn. Eventually, W.RE agreed to a visit, but just the night before the planned visit, Mr Lewin sent a message saying:

“I must ask you to not take photography or videos to be published. We are planning a carefully curated media campaign over the following months, including agreed exclusives with various media outlets. This is an important element in our strategy to attract the best tenants to the building.”

In simpler words, the “agreed exclusives” are not the local community media and all things considered, PR exercises and media campaigns take priority over people in Clapham Junction.

We need to manage the communication carefully to ensure the commercial success” added Mr Lewin. The local community appears to be a hurdle that they want to avoid in their strategy. Definitely not the ideal start for such an iconic place.

When distant financial interests and investors disconnected from the community make decisions in Clapham Junction, the souvenir of Arding and Hobbs’ invite to come and visit might only become nostalgia, reminiscent of a 1986 TV ad.

Update 10/01/2024: Unit B , the last unit available on the ground floor, beside Botanica cafe and the reception of the office suite on St John’s Hill, is now taken by an italian deli Prezzemolo & Vitale.

P&V London is Sicilian grocery shop with stores in Chelsea, Notting Hill, Borough Market and Wimbledon. You will find Fruit & Vegetables, Italian charcuterie & cheeses (they will directly compete with Casa Manolo with Spanish ham and tapas) and of course plenty of Italian grocery products such as pasta, olive oil and tomato sauce.

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CJI editor and Clapham Junction Action Group co-founder and coordinator since 2008, Cyril has lived in Clapham Junction since 2001.
He is also funder and CEO of Habilis-Digital Ltd, a digital agency creating and managing websites and Internet solutions.

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