By Nick Hartwright
Founder, Green Rooms Wood Green
In May 2016 I launched Green Rooms, the UK’s first independent arts-led social enterprise hotel. While the hotel is open to everyone, it is aimed primarily at people who work in the creative industries. Creatives are a discerning bunch but most of them don’t have hundreds of pounds to spend on hotel rooms when they come to London. So their funds are limited, but by the same token the last places they want to stay are soulless, formulaic, budget chain hotels. Green Rooms is a godsend for them. It is an affordable, well-designed space with a pared-back, utilitarian feel, and somewhere for artists to sleep, eat, work and spend down time with congenial people. It’s a creative haven, a melting pot of ideas – a place where lateral thinking and new approaches are actively encouraged. And a place where sharing is key.
From auspicious beginnings the hotel has developed and evolved over the past 10 months, and partnerships have been intrinsic to its success. They permeate all aspects of Green Rooms and run right through it. They’ve enriched the whole proposition, added piquancy and delivered constant ‘newness’. New partnerships give customers reason to return – they’ve impacted the bottom line and I’d argue they can do the same for any boutique hotel.
However, I believe that for partnerships and collaborations to pay dividends they have to be truly authentic, and symbiotic. You can’t fake them and you can’t hoodwink people or pull the wool over their eyes. My business card says ‘Green Rooms founder’ but it’s not a title I buy into really, I’m more the chief facilitator or enabler.
For starters, Green Rooms funding structure is rooted in partnerships and the hotel simply wouldn’t exist without the financial support we received at the outset from Haringey Council, the Greater London Authority and a number of impact investors. The beautiful 1930s Art Deco building which houses the hotel was earmarked for demolition and would very likely have been turned into a block of luxury flats – not something the area needed. I had an alternative vision for the building, a vision where everyone would benefit. And when we sat around the table together it wasn’t hard to convince people to invest, they could see right away that Green Rooms was an altruistic project. A project that would benefit the local community and the wider creative economy in London. What’s pleasing is that Green Rooms is being held up as a glowing example of how local authorities, social enterprises and private investors can work together to deliver game-changing cultural entrepreneurships. Not to mention the fact that all of our stakeholders use the hotel, whether that be to stay a night or two from time to time, or to put on events in the communal spaces.
And then we have our institutional partners. I believe you have to speculate to accumulate, and while Green Rooms ‘rack rates’ are more than competitive, to help secure block bookings from arts organisations we offer discounted prices to the likes of Somerset House and The British Council. All we ask in return is that the artists our partners’ put up at the hotel share their work – so if a group is working on a show we’ll have them put on a truncated version for guests to enjoy. It’s all about content. If you’re a ‘normal’ customer at Green Rooms there’s a fair chance you’ll see some sort of artistic endeavor when you’re with us, whether that be a piece of immersive theatre, an exhibition or a musical performance.
Of course, we programme our own events too. Some are esoteric, others more mainstream, but I like to think there’s something for everyone. Just recently we started a series of ‘city showcases’. Every month we celebrate a different culturally progressive city. We put artists from said city up in the hotel, let them exhibit their work and have renowned DJs play at the launch night. Bristol was the first and it was a roaring success. In the coming months we’ll be focusing on other UK cities and international arts hubs as well.
Our restaurant programme is all about partnerships too. Green Rooms isn’t your average hotel – so it follows we didn’t put an average, run-of-mill-club club sandwich restaurant in the lobby. The restaurant space runs as an incubator project, which means every six months we bring in a hot up-and-coming restaurateur, give them the kitchen and dining space free of charge, and provide them with expert tutelage at the same time. Said tutelage comes courtesy of Johnny Smith – co-founder of the Michelin-starred Clove Club restaurant in Shoreditch. Whilst at Green Rooms restaurateurs gain experience in running their own joint, and they get financial advice and help finding permanent premises after they leave. Our guests get delicious food and the chance to try something new every six months. It’s a supportive, creative and holistic programme where everyone wins. We’re currently on our second residency, Pop’s Kitchen, a modern take on Caribbean food, and it’s going great guns. The constant newness keeps people coming back.
Above all else, what really sets Green Rooms apart is the collaborative ethos we’ve fostered. A few years back I set up a pop-up hotel for a number of theatrical companies visiting the UK and it was a resounding success. It was what convinced me that Green Rooms could work. What struck me were the interactions the groups had; it’s one thing working together but another thing to stay with like-minded people too. Conversations spark ideas, which in turn can become projects, and in some instances these projects evolve into fully-fledged creative businesses.
Green Rooms brings people together from a wide range of creative disciplines and some brilliant ventures have already been conceived at the hotel. Mostly at the bar over or a cocktail or three. But make no mistake about it, the partnerships and collaborations we’ve set up have made it the success story it is. I just preside over it all and steer things in the right direction as best I can.