The Transformation of the Ravenswood Industrial Estate
A few months ago, you might have known the Ravenswood Industrial Estate as ‘that place behind the locked gates down the end of Summit Road’. Or somewhere you took your car for an MOT. That is if you even knew it was there in the first place. Fast-forward to the present and the Ravenswood Estate is definitely on the map. Thanks to an eclectic combination of business folk, it’s become a thriving addition to the Village. A place to get dazzled by neon, refreshed by locally produced booze or transported via the delights of frosted sponge.
The transformation started early in the year when world-famous neon artist Chris Bracey was looking for a new home for his studio and massive collection of neon work, aka God’s Own Junkyard (GOJY). When his previous premises in Vallentin Road was sold, he fortunately found a new home just up the road in the Ravenswood Industrial Estate, which sits between Shernhall Street and the Village. Since opening, GOJY has attracted hundreds of visitors from all over the world. Chris has created iconic neon work that has featured in countless films, album covers, music videos and photo shoots. He recently completed, along with fellow artist John Blake, a striking, large-scale artwork by Blackhorse Road Station.
No sooner had GOJY moved in when a new neighbour arrived in the form of the Wild Card Brewery. The twenty-something trio behind the business – William Harris, Andrew Birkby and Jaega Wise – have a long history. William and Jaega grew up in the same Nottingham neighbourhood, while Andrew met William when they were stacking shelves together at Boots. It was their combined love of craft ale that turned them into a formidable team.
The business was started using Andrew’s credit card, and having had success using other people’s brewing facilities, they wanted a place to call their own. Living in Walthamstow meant they were familiar with the area, and as William puts it, “there were a lot of people interested in supporting what we were doing”.
But manufacturing premises were in short supply. Since the property boom, many industrial sites in Walthamstow have been sold off to build blocks of flats. Then the guys found a unit on the Ravenswood Estate and signed a lease. But there was a missing part to the puzzle that meant they were taking a big risk; a premises licence so they could open a bar along with brewing the ales. According to Andrew, “Having the two sides of the business was part of the plan. We would have a found a way to make it work without the licence but it would have been a struggle”.
Fortunately the council granted the licence and the bar opened in late February with plenty of ale enthusiasts making an effort to find the new venue. “It was great just how much the community got behind us.” says Jaega.
Now, Wild Card is selling its Jack of Hearts Ruby Ale and Queen of Diamonds IPA at the brewery bar Friday, Saturday and Sunday and in shops and pubs across the country. And with Jaega in charge of the brewing process (in fact she’s referred to as the Walter White of the operation after telly’s most famous meth cook), it makes Wild Card the only brewery in London to have a female Head Brewer.
Suddenly the Ravenswood Estate was going from, well, an industrial estate to an industrious new social hub. That’s when it became a very interesting proposition for local businesswoman Becky Griffiths. Becky had been making fruit liqueurs – from sloe gin to gooseberry and elderflower vodka – and selling them under the banner of Mother’s Ruin from premises in Wood Street. She was looking to grow her business and move the manufacturing from under foot. “I wanted to start producing on a proper scale because I was manufacturing at home under the stairs and under the bed! Definitely it was a draw that there were similar businesses, and there was a real vibe on the weekend,” says Becky.
Even though, like Wild Card, her premises came without a licence for a bar, Becky signed the lease. “You have to take the chance; there was a lot of competition for the unit because of the regeneration. It was one of the few spaces that had come up and luckily I was just ahead of the curve in talking to the landlord.”
Becky, whose childhood in Cumbria inspired her love of using nature’s own to make artisanal liquor, eventually got a licence to serve alcohol. So in July she launched Mother’s Ruin Gin Factory (open Fri/Sat and Sun). Not only is it a bar serving cocktails and her bottled liqueurs and mixers, but also her first proper manufacturing base. Finally, she’s no longer sharing her home with 210 five-litre flagons. “Having the space to manufacture easily and not in your own kitchen is fantastic. I’ve increased my manufacturing four-fold.”
But the makeover of Ravenswood hasn’t ended there; Aura Rosa, another of Walthamstow’s small business success stories is now sharing premises with Becky. The patisserie and cake-making enterprise is run by Chef Gio Guillen-Arcay and his partner Jason Jackson. Now they have a glass-walled kitchen at the Gin Factory where you can watch the baking unfold, sit down and eat some cake (with one of Becky’s cocktails if you fancy!) or buy treats to take away.
Gio has been a chef for around 15 years and started specialising in baking and patisserie about eight years ago. While doing his BA in International Culinary Arts at the University of West London he did work placements with such star restaurateurs as Marco Pierre White and Marcus Waering. He then worked as a pastry chef at Michel Roux Jr’s Michelin starred Le Gavroche. “It was one of the most amazing experiences working with someone with so much knowledge and who I really admired.”
The business, named after Gio’s grandmother, has a signature cake; triple layers of vanilla sponge, soaked in rum syrup, filled with passion fruit patissiere and fresh raspberries, all encased in Italian meringue. (This reporter can happily confirm it tastes as good as it sounds.)
And as much as the pair are loving their current space, they have even bigger plans. “The ultimate goal is to find a place we can own. That’s the dream.”
And the regeneration hasn’t stopped. Joanne Child and her partner Marcus Bracey, the son of GOJY’s Chris Bracey, have opened an events spaced dubbed The Blitz Factory. They took on the lease of a unit in May after GOJY had fielded numerous inquiries from people wanting to use it for parties. That wasn’t something that suited GOJY, so the pair decided to open a function space a few units down. “It’s a completely unique and versatile space,” says Joanne. “I envisage it very much like a village hall, catering to everyone’s needs. It’s a great space and not just for parties. We’ve got yoga and Pilates in the evenings, and we’re hoping to do film nights, exhibits and, eventually, do some pop-up events, like maybe pop-up restaurants. We’ll see how it goes.”
The pair’s plans, however, have not pleased everyone. Many residents living nearby are concerned that the location is not suitable for a venue with an alcohol licence that can open 7 days a week (see story page 5).
These latest objections aside, there is no denying that the evolution of the Ravenswood Estate has extended and changed the landscape of the Village in a way that most would never have predicted.
As William from Wild Card says: “Finding a place in the Village was a total accident but it’s turned out to be as good a location as we could have hoped for.”
This article first appeared in the Sep 2014 edition of “The Village” magazine.