Hackney car mechanic sings ‘Stand by Me’ for crowdfunder to save his garage

Len Maloney (third from right) with the EETG Band. Photograph: Lucinda Douglas-Menzies

A car mechanic in Hackney has recorded his own version of the Ben E King R&B anthem ‘Stand By Me’ to save three railway arch businesses from crippling rent rises.

Len Maloney’s song is part of a crowdfunding campaign to bring the arches, owned by Transport for London (TfL), into community ownership.

Maloney, who has run JC Motors on Stean Street in Haggerston for two decades, recorded the track with a band made up of his friends and customers at Lightship 95, a studio in a 550-tonne red ship moored at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

Those who contribute to the crowdfunder will be invited to a live performance at Signature Brew E8 in December.

JC Motors, TripSpace Yoga & Dance, and Signature Brew E8 are raising £30,000 to fund a plan to bring their properties into a community land trust (CLT).

The trust is an asset lock that would save the arches from private sale and keep rents at an affordable level, taking into account the value of these businesses in the local community.

In April, Maloney was given two weeks to pay £70,000 in rent arrears or face eviction.

He said: “If we allow these big landlords to push for as much money as possible, they’re going to take away the businesses that are important to local people. The connection I have to people here – that doesn’t grow on trees.

“All I’m seeing is corporate heavy duty businesses coming in, and the landlords are favouring them. I do not see young people walking into those businesses for apprenticeships.”

Maloney, who has run a successful Volkswagen garage in Haggerston for 22 years, was saved from eviction earlier this year when more than 2500 people signed a letter to Sadiq Khan calling for the decision to be reversed.

After receiving the letter, the Deputy Mayor of London, Seb Dance, met Maloney and heard how he had supported hundreds of young people with apprenticeships and work experience over several decades.

The three businesses behind the crowdfunding campaign and the recording studio Lightship 95 are part of the East End Trades Guild, an alliance of 350 small, independent businesses and self-employed people in East London.

Since 2012, the Guild has campaigned with members facing rent rises so steep that many have already been forced to close.

Traders have used the Guild to compel TfL and other small business landlords to discuss rent on an ongoing basis, but it has always been their ambition to own property for the long-term, which would protect them from the constant disruption of negotiating fair leases and the pressure of rising rent.

Montserrat Ventura is a co-founder of TripSpace, a dance and yoga studio in Haggerston with an ethos of bringing the local community and the dance community together.

Since it was founded 10 years ago, TripSpace has offered summer festivals for families, free and discounted classes for key workers and older people, and creative residencies and performance opportunities for emerging dance artists.

“If we were able to pay a rent which was more affordable for us, perhaps we wouldn’t have to increase our prices and we could offer more artistic residencies to dancers and we could pay our teachers better. When you don’t have to pay so much on rent you have more to spend in the community,” Ventura said.

Len Maloney on the microphone. Photograph: Sarah Ainslie

Joe Mercer is the general manager of Signature Brew E8, a music venue and taproom next door to TripSpace on Acton Mews, by the Haggerston Canal.

Mercer said the venue had been operating at a loss for five years in order to make rent payments.

“We hope Sadiq Khan and the new mayor of Hackney will see that if they don’t do something now, these small, locally-owned businesses will be gone. In 10 years, it will just be BP garages and Wetherspoons that take over the arches because we made it a cool place to be.”

The East End Trades Guild was started by Krissie Nicolson in 2012 after she met Paul Gardner of Gardners’ Bags, a fourth generation family business in the East End of London, who was facing a £10,000 increase in his rent.

Gardner became the first member of the Guild, which has since helped hundreds of small businesses.

In 2021, members of the Guild met Sadiq Khan and discussed the proposal to own properties for small businesses in a community land trust where they would be protected from constant rent increases.

Khan said then: “The answer is yes, but the issue is the timeline. I do not want to commit to something I cannot deliver.

“We will have to speak properly about it after the election if I am still Mayor. For the CLT, we need to look at the land and we’ve got to identify the best site”.

Nicolson said that the time for further discussions is now.

“We’ve been doggedly building and sustaining our membership for the last 13 years for this precise moment in time. A small window of immense opportunity, if we don’t seize it now to create the Trades Guild Community Land Trust it will be gone for good,” she said.

Len Maloney and his JC Motors team

Len Maloney (centre) inside JC Motors. Photograph: Sarah Ainslie

Nicolson and the East End Trades Guild have worked on the idea for the community land trust with Community Led Housing, an organisation that helps groups of people coming together to create their own houses.

If successful, the Trades Guild Community Land Trust would be the first of its kind to support small businesses priced out of an area.

In the standard model, membership of a community land trust is open to anyone for as little as a pound, which allows many people in the surrounding community to sit on the board and have vote in decisions.

With the money from the campaign, Nicolson will work on how to finance the acquisition of the land, including the possibility of funding from institutional investors like pension funds, and a community share sale that would build on the support received by Maloney for his letter.

Raising funding gives Nicolson time to prepare a case to bring to Sadiq Khan before the London Mayoral Elections in 2024, she said. The Mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Car mechanics in Hackney have been particularly hard hit by rent rises.

Between 2000/01 and 2020/21, industrial floorspace fell by 24 per cent through conversion to other land uses, according to an Industrial Land Commission.

In inner London, the loss was over 40 per cent and in Hackney, where JC Motors is based, the loss was more severe than anywhere else in the city at 62 per cent.

TfL told Maloney in 2017 that his rent was tripling from £22,000 to between £60-70,000 a year.

By working with the Guild, he was able to agree a stepped rent increase, but it was not enough to stop him from getting into arrears.

At the same time, he has continued to keep his business operational to serve local customers and train young people.

TfL, which owns 800 railway arches in London, told Maloney at the time that it was planning to generate more money from property after changes to its funding from the government.

A settlement reached with the government in 2022 left TfL with a hole in its budget of around £740 million.

A spokesperson for Places for London, the property arm of TfL, said: “We have 1,500 tenants across London, and we are proud that 95 per cent of those tenants are small businesses.

“We always work with our tenants to help support their businesses however we can and work to ensure that we treat each tenant fairly based, considering their individual context.”

The crowdfunder is aiming to reach £30,000 by 1 December, but will remain open after this date, with a stretch target of another £90,000.

You can find it at bit.ly/TakeHackneyArches.