GS: How did you go about renovating them?
SH: First and foremost, we work with the buildings - not against them. A lot of the buildings that we work on are from the 20s and 30s and were engineered so well during that era that we adopt a less-is-more approach and strip them right back to their original features. One of my main concerns was that I often saw new buildings going up and the developers not worrying about the ground floor space because they were too focused on making money from the upstairs apartments. So what I did was to turn this thinking on its head and say, ‘Let’s focus on the ground floor spaces and get local businesses and people into those spaces’. Gradually that became the reason why people wanted to buy the flats, not the other way around. In my opinion, if you’re going to develop a site, then go and speak to the community, see what the community wants, and give them the space on the ground floor. I’m not saying give it for free, but give them a hand. If the business is successful, they’ll sign a lease because they’re a part of the local community, so they’re not going to move away. We did that with a little space in the side of an old warehouse, we said, ‘Use that. We’ll do it up for you’. We used all the reclaimed timber we had left and built it out for them
. We gave young talented individuals an opportunity and they now have a successful business that really brings people together - that’s building communities. Build it and people will come.
GS: You’ve also done some pioneering work with the homeless?
SH: I wouldn’t necessarily call it ‘pioneering’ I would just call it common sense. When we started in the area there were quite a few homeless people around. So
I invited them to live in the buildings at pre-development stage. We gave them a few rules and we provided toilets, running water and a broom, and I told them to look after the building for me and they did as anyone would with a roof over their head.
GS: Tell me about the Henrietta Street Gym development?
SH: It was an old garage that was left derelict after a fire, and we converted into a heritage boxing and fitness gym. Neil, the owner of Henrietta Street Gym, was considering moving out of the city because it just wasn’t affordable. I showed him what we could do with the space he’s in now. Now he’s paying no service charge, less rent and is in a bigger and better building. He was open enough to run with my ideas and his business is now flourishing. Nike has just done a shoot in there and the gym has become a real pillar of the community.
GS: The Compound is your home as well as your company headquarters. How does that work?
SH: It works extremely well because we wanted to run Javelin Block as a transparent company. So our home/office is also our show flat. We run an open-door policy that breeds trust and confidence. Since opening my home/office it has also become a creative hub and an inspirational place for many of the world’s blue chip companies.