Shops and street food – inside shipping containers! Bold plan for York city centre revealed

An architect's drawing showing a finished Spark:York
16 Nov 2016 @ 12.55 pm
| Environment, News

This is the bold new vision for Piccadilly in York – a ‘box park’ housing shops, cafés and community projects inside former shipping containers.

Called Spark:York, the start-up business hub could be up and running by spring next year.

The idea is to transform the former Reynards garage site into a buzzing enterprise centre during the day, and a social and performance space at night.

An aerial view of how the site could look. Photograph: Spark:York
An aerial view of how the site could look. Photograph: Spark:York

Dreamed up by three young entrepreneurs from York, the plans have been submitted to City of York Council.

Tom McKenzie and Sam Leach, both 23, and Joe Gardham, 36, hope Spark:York will provide employment for young people and kick-start the regeneration of York’s neglected ‘Southern Gateway’.

The vision

A community hub… Spark:York
A community hub… Spark:York

A shared passion for social enterprise brought the three together. They have visited other successful shipping container hubs in London, including Pop Brixton and Boxpark in Shoreditch.

Spark:York will consist of 15 upcycled shipping containers, arranged over two levels. It is designed by award-winning architect Carl Turner, who featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs, and is the man behind Pop Brixton.

This will be the first scheme of its kind in the North of England: “It’s something new and authentically different,” Joe told YorkMix.

They can be decorated in many different colours and designs, with the Spark:York community deciding on the style and brand.

Tom McKenzie said:

Spark:York will offer the perfect space to meet friends, eat, drink and socialise in a communal space in the heart of the city.

Spark will strengthen York’s early evening offer, by providing somewhere for the after-work crowd through the week, or for people looking to relax on a weekend.

We’ve visited similar places across Europe and are really excited to bring this experience to York.

Inside Spark:York


Street food kiosks – street food not found elsewhere in the city
Drink kiosks – serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, tapping into the early evening, European-style way of drinking and socialising
Retail – selling products from small indie retailers
Shared workspace – a hub for socially-minded start-ups, charities and entrepreneurs
Meeting/ teaching space – a quiet space for meetings or classroom-type events
Stage and performance area – providing a platform for performing arts and a regular programme of events and activities for York residents
Public workspace – free wi-fi and desk space accessible to people passing by or needing a couple of hours’ space in the city centre

Who could move in

Photograph: Boxpark Shoreditch on Facebook
Photograph: Boxpark Shoreditch on Facebook

Joe said: “York is full of talented and visionary people. We are creating an affordable and inclusive space in the middle of town that will create opportunities for local people to realise their ambition.”

This might be a local chef with a unique culinary idea, a budding retailer who can’t afford a space in town, or a volunteer who wants to take their charitable ideas to the next level.

Sam said it was about providing something new, not just another hotel or more flats. They are particularly keen to help a younger generation prosper.

“This is about providing things for younger people and allowing them to contribute to the local economy,” Sam told YorkMix.

“If we can give space for young, ambition people we can bring more industry to the city centre.”

York seems to lack that one pinnacle hotspot where the city fuses over great music, art and food. A project like Spark:York will fill the gap whilst allowing local and independent businesses to blossom.”
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How it works

A 20ft-long shipping container. Photograph ©  BezumniyChasovshik  on Wikipedia
A 20ft-long shipping container. Photograph © BezumniyChasovshik on Wikipedia

The containers
They are either 20ft or 40ft long by 8ft wide
A 40ft container costs £1,500-£2,000 second hand
The 40ft containers can be divided into up to three units
A container can be ready in two days
They are insulated and waterproof, fitted with plumbing and electricity, and can be fitted with a variety of windows and doors
Containers aren’t permanent and can be moved if new plans emerge for the site

The tenants
Spark:York is looking for local entrepreneurs with both a viable business plan and a community ethos
They would get a one-year lease with the option to make it longer
A free business advice hub would help with everything from accounts to insurance

The funding
Income streams for Spark:York will include…

Donations from philanthropists who share their vision


Grants for urban regeneration projects

Rent – “we’re not there to maximise profit so we’ll look to keep rents as low as possible”

Transforming the street

Ripe for transformation: the site of the old Reynards garage on Piccadilly, York. Photograph: YorkMix
Ripe for transformation: the site of the old Reynards garage on Piccadilly, York. Photograph: YorkMix

“Piccadilly doesn’t have a really unified community that was going to revive the street but it has the same potential as you’ve seen in Fossgate, Bishy Road and other parts of the city,” Joe said.


Reynards garage site, Piccadilly

Plans submitted Nov 2016; first tenants could move in April 2017

Register interest via [email protected]

Follow Spark:York on Twitter and Facebook

Spark:York would provide that catalyst.

“The aim is that it’s always buzzing, there’s always things going on. Which would be great for the city, and bring people into the area,” Sam told us.

“We want to create somewhere that’s the birthplace of many different spaces and ventures.”

The team, who were all brought up and educated in York, want to give something new to the city.

They say the idea has already generated enthusiasm: “The council have been very receptive and have encouraged us so far,” said Sam.

As things stand the park would be looking for at least three years in that space. It could stay longer on Piccadilly, but if things change, it might move to another suitable space in the city.

And the idea could grow, Joe says; “there are hopes the community could develop this model across the city and the north of England:”.