High above Great Eastern Street in the heart of East London, 4 recycled Jubilee line train carriages and an arrangement of shipping containers make up the creative studios of Village Underground. Village Underground is a non-profit space for creativity and culture: part creative community, part arts venue. The main Village Underground center is housed in a renovated turn-of-the-century warehouse primed for everything from concerts and club nights to exhibitions, theatre, live art and other performances. Currently, these uniquely renovated spaces accommodate up to 50 artists, writers, designers, filmmakers, VJ’s, and musicians working side-by-side in a creative community.
Village Underground was born of the need for affordable, environmentally stable studio space for artists in central London. Originally the founders explored several sites for the project, but the Broad Street Rail Viaduct stole their hearts. Built in 1848, the viaduct had been derelict for over 20 years and had self seeded into a meadow with trees and wildlife. Along with the viaduct, the visionaries behind Village Underground also negotiated with local government to take over the then severely derelict Victorian warehouse. Where better to start a cultural centre than a place whose previous incarnations include a railway coal store, a music hall, and an eighteenth century theatre?
To rebuild the site, the founders raised funds from a number of loans, and social enterprise and community development finance initiatives; these included London Rebuilding Society, Triodos Bank, Fair Finance and GLE One London. They also received a grant from Un Ltd, and the Foundation For Social Entrepreneurs. This early funding was supplemented by the income of using the space for film and photography shoots, then later – events and artistic happenings. The main renovations took place over the course of a year, just in time for the opening April 2007.
In addition to being a cultural center, Village Underground is a continuous ecological project. From recycled trains and shipping containers, to reclaimed sleepers, staircases, furniture and flooring, its founders believe in reusing before recycling. All of the studios are virtually carbon neutral. Powered by 24 PV solar panels generating 4.92 kWp, Village Underground creates enough energy to run all of its lighting and office equipment. Any additional electricity needed is supplied by Ecotricity – which offers 100% green energy from wind turbines. The living roof increases biodiversity, dampens concert noise, reduces urban heat, absorbs carbon emissions and provides insulation that cuts fuel consumption and minimizes environmental impact.
Village Underground’s success has led to increasing international attention and inspiration for future initiatives. It is a self-sustaining social enterprise that continues to profit responsibly from the creative community it has created. The founders are currently researching and engineering new sites in Berlin and Lisbon, with an eye on other world cities. Ultimately, their goal is to share and exchange the vibrant culture of London with that of other nationalities and cities. To this end, they are establishing more creative communities, venues and affordable facilities in which to experiment, play, produce and perform. Through physical spaces and virtual networks, more initiatives like the Village Underground can connect artists and other cultural influencers across the globe, fostering an international creative community with local accessibility.