This week on the blog, we catch up with Krissie Nicolson, Echo member and founder of the East End Trades Guild.
An East London local for the past 20 years, Krissie witnessed first-hand the increasing pressures of living and working in London. She started the East End Trades Guild to be a collective voice for the interests of East London’s independent businesses. In the last couple of years, the Guild has tackled some thorny issues head on – from rising business rates to affordable rents – and seen some fantastic wins, including inviting Mayor Sadiq Khan out for breakfast at E. Pellicci and securing his support for their business rates campaign.
We asked Krissie about some of the highs and lows of launching the Guild.
What made you start the East End Trades Guild?
I was studying for a Masters in Community Organising at Queen Mary University when I read about a fourth generation paper bag seller named Paul Gardner on the blog Spitalfields Life. Paul’s business – Gardners’ Bags, was under threat from an inflated rent increase that might have closed him down. Because of the skill of the anonymous ‘Gentle Author’ and the power of narrative, the scale of the public reaction was so great it compelled the landlord to agree to a more gradual rent increase.
I have lived in East London for twenty years, and have brought up my son here, so I have witnessed and experienced the increasing pressures of living in London. Both residents and businesses are under threat, in part due to the destabilising effects of globalisation. The story about Paul in Spitalfields Life and the impact that it had on the temporal world inspired me to try out some of the things I had been learning about on my masters programme, so I went to meet Paul in his shop on Commercial Street. We got on famously, it’s impossible not to get on with Paul. He made suggestions of other local businesses for me to meet and through this way of referencing I built a network of local relationships and uncovered the common issues that tied them together. Paul’s case was of course not an isolated one. Over time we started to have meetings at the Bishopsgate Institute, and with the mandate from the businesses our strategy was to take action from a position of strength and come together as the East End Trades Guild.
Where were you at before you joined the Echo++ business accelerator programme in 2016?
After a successful launch event I handed over the reins to the small business members and took a bit of step back to earn a regular income with a migrant and refugee organisation called Migrants Organise. While I was away we learned that small businesses don’t have the time to keep up all the work needed to sustain and build an organisation on top of running their own businesses without support. So when I applied for support from Echo I had come back to the Guild after over a year away and the membership had dropped to fewer than 50 members from nearly 200. We now have 185 and growing.
What’s your focus with the Guild now?
The focus is to build the membership for a powerful and sustainable voice for effective action on our members’ common interests.
Krissie and other members of the East End Trades Guild meet Mayor Sadiq Khan for breakfast at E. Pellicci to secure his support for their business rates campaign.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve traded on Echo so far?
I offered places for small businesses on a legal support workshop on commercial leases and rent reviews.
What advice would you give to a new business starting out?
Be persistent and make sure you find as much support and advice as you can to develop your resilience. London is probably one of the toughest places to start a business, especially if you lack privilege.
What have been real ‘light bulb’ moments for you during your business journey?
My business journey has brought me self confidence through a recognition of my own ability, it was hard won and took a lot of low points to battle through.
The East End Trades Guild are currently open for applications for new members, and everyone who joins before 31st July will be featured on their new map! If you’re a small business operating in East London, we thoroughly recommend you check them out.
Got your own business idea brewing? Applications for our latest Echo++ business accelerator programme are now open! Find out more.