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Arches businesses to launch 'biggest commercial tenants' association ever'

Guardians of the Arches is trying to raise £42,000 to mobilise small businesses across the country and fight back against powerful landlords

Guardians of the Arches

Small businesses set up in railway arches are joining forces to create a game-changing commercial tenants’ association that will reach across the country.

The Big Issue-backed Guardians of the Arches (GotA) campaign is crowdfunding to launch the new organisation that will defend small businesses and their communities against monopolist landlords.

The mechanics, hairdressers, café owners, metal-shop workers, artists and distillers that occupy railway property have been fighting back against unfair rent hikes by Network Rail since June last year.

Now, GotA hopes to raise £42,000 by the time the fundraiser closes on June 21, with the money to give the volunteer-run organisation dedicated staff to move forward.

They hope this new “powerful and democratic” group will harness the power of more than 7,000 small businesses across the country to change how government and big businesses treat them.

Last summer GotA collected 10,000 signatures which were hand-delivered to transport secretary Chris Grayling. The petition demanded he not go ahead with plans to sell the railway property to investment firms which could evict tenants or push up rent by as much as 350 per cent.

But in September Network Rail sold off the arches to Blackstone and Telereal Trillium for £1.46bn.

Since then, the campaign group has been holding local tenants meetings across the country to hear the common concerns of small businesses and to build relationships that will play an important role in the tenants’ association.

Will Brett, a spokesperson for GotA, said: “There are a lot of arches businesses that feel worried about the future, and feel small in the face of large and powerful landlords. They go to these meetings and they find that there are others like them and that it’s possible to act on their interests together.

“The tenants’ meetings are very open and democratic, it lets people know their voices are directly heard. The tenants’ association will be the same. It’s not just one of those things when you sign up and pay your dues and get a newsletter in the post.”

Earlier this month the National Audit Office confirmed that the sale of the railway property ignored the needs of small businesses, and that GotA’s campaigning was directly responsible for the new owners’ commitment to a tenants-first approach.

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird said: “It’s brilliant to see the GotA grow from a campaign into a movement.

“This is an inspired cause, led by pioneering small businesses fighting to protect the future of the high streets. If you can support them with a donation, do so.”

The next GotA tenants meeting is in Manchester on June 3.

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