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‘The men in suits want a bit of the hipster pie’: Insurance firm Aviva under fire for Hoxton Square expansion plans

PUBLISHED: 12:08 27 January 2017 | UPDATED: 18:19 06 October 2017

An artist's impression of Aviva's plans for Hoxton Square. Picture: Aviva

An artist's impression of Aviva's plans for Hoxton Square. Picture: Aviva

Archant

Aviva’s bid to tap into the trendiness of Hoxton has been savaged by historians and neighbours – who are concerned they will turn the “historic home of the Hackney artist” into a “corporate playground”.

A file image of people having fun in Hoxton Square. Picture: Fablo Venni/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) A file image of people having fun in Hoxton Square. Picture: Fablo Venni/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Aviva set up a “digital garage” at 33-35 Hoxton Square two years ago where coders and developers work on software.

Now the insurance company has put in a planning application to join up two others: 28-30 Hoxton Square and 31-37 Hoxton Street just behind.

Rumours are circulating Aviva – which has stated it wants to move in to the Hoxton Square vicinity because of a “desire to fundamentally redefine the cultural and physical shape of its business” – is “aggressively pursuing” more properties in the conservation area.
But neighbours and history buffs have objected to its planning applications on aesthetic grounds – and because of the impact the multinational might have on small businesses in the community.

Nick Perry from the Hackney Society said: “The men in grey suits are wanting a bit of the hipster pie. The fear is of a corporate insurance HQ in a small-scale historic industrial district.

“I get there’s employment in it, and you could say ‘why does it matter?’ – but it’s totally different when you turn a place that’s small-scale and which incubates a hipster culture into a corporate headquarters that could be anywhere, and hope it survives that.

"It’s difficult making yourself sexy, and putting yourself in hipster central doesn’t do it"

Nick Perry, Hackney Society

“All you are doing is eradiating the creative industries which nurtured that in the first place.”

He added: “Hoxton Square has been a place for art and food and young businesses for a long time, and while the employees of a large insurance firm might want somewhere hip to go for lunch, that’s all that can be said about it. It doesn’t offer much else that’s positive.

“It’s difficult making yourself sexy, and putting yourself in hipster central doesn’t do it. You need more than that – you can’t be the corporate face of hipsters.

“We have to be hopeful Aviva don’t try and exploit the historic home of the Hackney artist to make its own corporate playground.”

Neighbour and former United Nations worker Sharon Meager is concerned the company could soon start to create a campus by “joining up” even more buildings, on what she said might as well be dubbed “Aviva Square”.

'Somewhere hip to go for lunch': Hoxton Square. Picture: Mac Morrison/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) 'Somewhere hip to go for lunch': Hoxton Square. Picture: Mac Morrison/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

“They have already taken over two art galleries and now a silk showroom, printers and architects’ firm,” Sharon, 62, told the Gazette.

“It’s not that I’m anti-Aviva. If it was Google or Coca Cola I’d feel the same.”

A spokeman for Aviva said the firm wants to set up a creative hub rather than “conventional offices”.

She said: “When most people think of an insurance company they think about office space in the City, but we’re trying to be innovative and think about what customers are going to use on their mobile phone apps, and that’s not conducive to innovative thinking.”

Stuart Wright, property and facilities director at Aviva, said although the firm had already submitted a planning application, “nothing’s finalised at this stage”.

“We want to embrace the entrepreneurial culture of Hoxton, not create a corporate culture in the square,” he added.

“Our aim is to make sure that whatever is agreed is right for all concerned – the local area, the local community and our own people.”

And he insisted: “As a 320-year old company we particularly value heritage, so we are especially mindful of the conservation of the square.”

 

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