A communal meal at a warehouse in Haringey Warehouse District, L
A communal meal at a warehouse in Haringey Warehouse District. Photo: Sian Bradley

Live in a Warehouse? Gentrification Is Coming for You Next

Developers are threatening to demolish one of the final bastions of alternative living in London.
Simon Doherty
London, GB

In February last year, around 30 protesters gathered in the back room of a pub in London’s Haringey Warehouse District. In front of a laptop perched on a chair on top of a table, they clutched placards that read “We Love Our Home” and “Community Not Profit”, chanting: “Tenants united, will never be defeated”. On the laptop were the puzzled faces of representatives of the planning consultancy firm Collective Planning. They were not expecting a protest. They had agreed to speak to four locals about plans to demolish their home – Omega Works – in the district, which, if it goes ahead, will make around 100 people homeless during a cost of living and housing crisis. 


Haringey Warehouse District (AKA “The Manor”, short for Manor House) is a sprawling former industrial site in south Tottenham which, for the past two decades, has been home to work-live spaces where tenants can use their unit for residential purposes and a place of work. There can be anything from six to 16 residents in a single unit, with multiple units in each warehouse and clusters of warehouses in the same area, including Omega Works, a converted piano factory.

A community hub called New River Studios sits in the middle, housing a bar, gig space, recording studio and The New River Broadcasting Company, perhaps the most underground radio station in London. In 2015, there were thought to be over 1,000 residents living in the area, though it’s unclear exactly how many people live there now.

Once upon a time, tradespeople at Omega Works constructed pianos for the Queen. The then-largest piano in the world – 11 foot eight inches long and weighing 2,000 pounds – was built there. By the 80s, industry in the area was on the out, leaving large warehouses unoccupied. People began moving in around 2000: artists, bands, anybody you might loosely call a “creative” in the broadest sense of the word; the rhythms of the factory replaced by those produced by aspiring musicians.


But the phrase “work-live” belies what spaces like Omega Works really are: places where people come to find belonging, meaning, inspiration and safety. I first moved to The Manor – in a different warehouse to Omega Works – in 2017, when I could count the number of people I knew in London on one hand. I stayed for four years and lived in two warehouses over that time with two cats, a post-punk band, someone who built props for films, multiple tarot readers, various designers, a cosmic funk group, two dogs, various DJs, climate activists, tattoo artists, rave organisers and someone who was convinced that the moon was a hologram. 

There were some interesting discussions around the long dinner table. Around 15 of us lived in a huge cavernous space that was perfect for parties. There were always other people hanging about; circus performers, a sex worker whose preferred mode of transport was a unicycle and a man who was “moving out next week” and ended up on our couch for a year. On Friday nights, it became a pub for people who couldn’t afford to go to the pub. Residents put on DIY gigs. Communal dinners often involved a huge jar of homemade kimchi which had to be “burped” once a day to release the gas. 

Some people once turned up on the weekend thinking it was a nightclub. Half my housemates were constantly composing and playing wholly unrelated genres of loud music – heavy metal, drum and bass, guitar riffs and industrial techno – throughout the day. I had a deadline one day and sat writing in the middle of a punk gig; that sort of thing was very normal. 


I moved out last year, but still spend time in the Manor, which remains one of the last outposts of alternative living in London. Residents live in and amongst spaces rented out to African churches. As thumping jungle and hardcore recedes on a Sunday morning, you can hear congregations blasting tunes with their priests – “praise the Lord!” leading the ceremony. There’s more than a few urban legends about local sesh heads who ended up at an African church after a warehouse party. 

A live gig in Omega Works.

A live gig in Omega Works. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Charity

Prospective renters in London traverse a minefield: competitive viewings that feel more like the Hunger Games than finding a place to live, people drawing from the Bank of Mum and Dad to whack down six month’s rent upfront, agents asking for personal statements like it’s a job interview, and more. 

But get into a good warehouse when you move to London and you’ll save on rent (it can cost anything from £550 to £750 for a single room) and find a ready-made friendship group – which, given that research has found that those who live in dense urban areas like London are more likely to experience loneliness and social isolation, is not to be sniffed at.


All this makes warehouse living aspirational, even somewhat utopian. Developers intrinsically know this. Majorlink Ltd, the owners of the building, put Omega Works up for sale last year and it is currently under offer on application, which means they need to get planning permission to demolish the site before the deal goes through. Collective Planning was brought in to get the project across the line; its website says the aim for Omega Works is to create “further warehouse living”. 

A pre-application briefing to Haringey Council’s Planning Sub-Committee revealed their real plans for the area: four soulless blocks of flats that look just like every other new build development in London, a city that seems increasingly intent on stripping areas of their character. Let’s just say, it seems unlikely anybody living there will be gathering around a hastily-built fire pit with their neighbours to eat adequately-burped kimchi.  

This wave of gentrification doesn’t just threaten the places where people live – it also threatens the cultural capital that makes cities great. Marco Pasquariello, manager and resident engineer of Snap Recording Studios, has been operating from Omega Works for 12 years. Their studios have attracted independent artists and big names like Kate Bush, Stormzy, Ronnie Wood, Liam Gallagher, FKA twigs and The Streets. But their days are looking numbered. “We can't afford to take time out while they're building a new place and we wouldn't be able to afford to move back into wherever they rebuild anyway,” he says. 

Omega Works warehouse in Haringey, London

Omega Works. Photo: courtesy of Save the Warehouses

It didn’t have to be this way. In 2014, Haringey Council worked with residents and stakeholders on a progressive policy that recognised the use of former industrial warehouses as somewhere to live. But, in an email, Haringey Council told VICE that “the site is designated for redevelopment in the council’s local plan and we expect a planning application to be submitted shortly”. 

According to the council’s planning application process, details of the plans will be soon published on the council’s website and locals will have a minimum of 21 days to comment on the proposed development or raise any objections. If enough objections are made, an application will be called in to a committee of local councillors to decide the outcome. The Planning Objection Company, a firm that assists people who want to oppose planning permission applications, explains that examples of “good” objections could include things such as “loss of privacy” or “loss of daylight”. 

Save the Warehouses, a resident-led campaign fighting to protect North London's warehouse district, says that Collective Planning have only been willing to engage with four people, despite their plans potentially making around 100 Omega Works residents homeless. “They wanted to ‘consult’ with us via Zoom and show us their new plans,” the group wrote on Facebook. “But the fact is we do not want to consult about our homes being demolished and our community destroyed.” 


Collective Planning declined all requests for comment on their application. “I am afraid [neither] myself nor the client [Majorlink Ltd] do interviews on our schemes,” company director John Ferguson told VICE.

Author and filmmaker Micheal Smith has written about the cultural regeneration of the north-east of London in books like The Giro Playboy and Unreal City. He is in no doubt about the importance of warehouse spaces like Omega Works. “We need these kinds of places,” he tells VICE. “They’re like the little makeshift allotments hidden out the back where the raw new cultural material is grown.

“At least for a while, these places manage to pull off the magic trick of defying the laws of economic gravity and the all-consuming, spirit-crushing problem of constantly having to find sky high rents, manage to form a kind of protective bubble against all those stifling mundane concerns that kill the time to dream and to re-imagine and invent.” 

He points to the aggressive gentrification of Hackney Wick – where cheap warehouse living spaces were replaced by identikit newbuilds – as the fate now looming over Manor House. “I can’t really see how you can avoid it to be honest,” he says. “I don’t want to be that old fart pining for a lost golden age when you could live just off Hoxton Square for 60 quid a week, but it seems to me the cultural ecosystem of London has fundamentally changed, for the worse.”


London property exists on a spectrum, Smith explains. There are places where most struggle to make rent and others far away from any cultural activity. Places like Hackney Wick once landed squarely in the middle. “I can’t imagine those marginal no man’s lands in between the two being able to survive that interesting transitional creative phase very long any more,” he muses.

There are some unfair stereotypes about people who live in warehouses: That they’re all young, placard-brandishing activists, crystal-toting New Age hippies or aspiring DJs (no offence to aspiring DJs). In my time at the Manor, I lived with more than a few who fell into those categories, but the truth is people from most walks of life pass through the area. I had neighbours who were 21 and others in their 70s; people who were straight edge and sober, people who missed out on sleep from Thursday until Sunday in the pursuit of the sesh and everything in between. 

“​​Warehouse living saved my life,” Thea Evans, a 24-year-old resident, says. After feeling lonely and isolated living in the local area, she ended up at Omega Works. Like many before her, she found her tribe between the corrugated sheets and concrete support beams of the warehouses. “It’s where I met the love of my life and the best people in the world,” she told me. “I got the full experience; the chaos, the love and the friends. My best friends are the people I met in these warehouses, people who live here really need to be here and spaces like this community are so hard to find.” 

Save the Warehouses organiser and artist Caitlin Strongarm moved into Omega Works in 2021. “It just feels like a complete capitalisation on the organic culture that has grown here,” she says. “You can't displace over 100 people from an area that they have put blood, sweat and tears into, including people who really can't afford to live anywhere else and don't have any other options.”   

Eventually, the decision to approve or reject planning permission for the new development will go to Haringey Council, which told VICE: “We do not own this site and are not responsible for the people being evicted.” In the years to come, the council will decide if Haringey Warehouse District will be protected as a site of cultural interest – and of people’s homes – or become a dull pastiche of what it once was. 

It’s a process that happens all over London – an organic subculture, repackaged and sold back to the highest bidder. Those who pioneered and nurtured it are simply just damage, like a well-loved pub that is bought by a chain, gets renovated and prices out the locals. It begs the question: Who is London for? Right now, it feels like it’s just for people with a lot of money – the ones who hoover up culture like a banker with a £50 note. 

They aren’t the people who make this city interesting, but those who do have to get by in an ecosystem that monopolises their creative spirit for its own profit. You can’t blame the residents of Omega Works for wanting to try and help to shape their own future in a hostile city. But for now, all they can do wait for the planning application to be land on the council’s website.