Start-up businesses upcycling shipping containers to launch dream ventures

Mini Mobile UK is making the most of a growing trend among firms to convert shipping containers into business spaces Storage container convertors, Anna Hedworth of the Cook House and Andy Aitchison of Northern Alchemy
Storage container convertors, Anna Hedworth of the Cook House and Andy Aitchison of Northern Alchemy

A Teesside headquartered shipping container firm is capitalising on a growing trend among savvy entrepreneurs looking for cheaper, unusual ways to get their dream ventures off the ground.

Stockton-based Mobile Mini UK – the British headquarters of the global provider of storage containers and portable accommodation – are supplying a growing number of their products to businesses who are turning away from expensive office and retail rentals.

Instead, rising number of start-ups are converting containers to meet their accommodation needs, rather than take on expensive leaseholds or incur high building costs.

Mobile Mini, which last year reached turnover of £52m and employs around 367 staff across its Stockton base and 16 other UK depots, said it has been enthused by the increasingly fashionable and alternative office and retail solution, leading to rising rentals and purchases of new and used containers.

Chris Watcham, health and safety director for Mobile Mini UK said: “Although our containers are typically used in construction, building, retail and education, it’s exciting to see the growing trend in new small businesses using storage containers.

“Converted storage containers are an ideal choice for start-ups because of their versatility and affordability.

“Once planning permission has been obtained, containers can be placed on-site in a matter of weeks, or even days, which gives new businesses the great advantage of getting their premises up and running quickly.

“With a wide range of sizes, prices and delivery options, our storage containers can keep overheads to a minimum, so new businesses can focus on growing, while also helping the environment with an eco-friendly solution.”

Cook House, an innovative cafe run by Anna Hedworth in the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle, is based in two 40-foot long containers which she rents from her former employer.

Originally an architect with xsite architecture, based in Foundry Lane Studios, Anna had been running pop-up supper clubs in her free time for four years and aspired to change career, opened the Cook House as an artisan cafe.

The containers, which were procured for free from benefactors who had planned to scrap them, were fitted out by xsite architecture with help from a team of tradesmen and originally served as a temporary venue and gallery space for two years, before being rented by Anna.

Ms Hedworth said: “It was a dream of mine to open my own cafe, but once I’d found out the costs involved I didn’t think it was going to be feasible for some time.

“I couldn’t afford the prices of some of the leaseholds in town, then the idea came to me about transforming shipping containers.

“They offered a cost effective alternative which enabled me to realise my ambition more quickly and have provided a unique and interesting space for my cafe, which is growing in popularity and offers discerning food lovers something completely different.”

The nearby pub The Cumberland Arms is also home to local microbrewery, Northern Alchemy, which has also seen the advantages of containers and praise their cost effectiveness and flexibility.

Andy Aitchison, co-owner of the new craft beer firm, who works out of a 30-foot container affectionately called The Lab, said: “We decided to use a container for the brewery as it meant we didn’t need to build something from scratch, avoiding expensive constructions costs.

“Once we got the container on to site, we realised how much we could do with the space and were amazed at how flexible and easy to work with containers are. Plus by upcycling the container, it meant we were doing something for the environment, avoiding it going to scrap.”

Mobile Mini UK is now working with firms outside the North East including Lusso Styling in Wakefield, a wedding and events styling company, and hipster hub Shoreditch will shortly open disco burger venue Burger Bear.


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