Converted shipping containers – The perfect solution for the retail sector and pop-up café
People are the strongest asset at Eldapoint. Our Conversions and Sales Manager, Hugh Daly, brings a wealth of experience to the business and has delivered many shipping container conversions.
In what will be a regular feature, we will take a look at some of the successful projects that Hugh has been involved with. In this first article, we take a look at ‘The Biscuit Tin’ in Reading, a converted shipping container café and bar.
The trend for pop-up retail continues to gather pace, and ‘The Biscuit Tin’ project is a perfect example of using container conversions for cafes, restaurants, shops and bars. We explore why these types of projects can be used as a catalyst to promote the location where they are used, and the surrounding area as a whole.
Community regeneration and urban improvement developments are projects that we applaud. Station Hill Redevelopment project in Reading, is one that Hugh was delighted to have been part of. With his many years of experience in the world of shipping containers, Hugh’s expertise was one of the key elements that helped this project succeed.
The area around Reading Train Station had been derelict for several years until the Station Hill Redevelopment project was approved. The development, which is expected to take up to 10 years to complete will comprise 930,000 square feet of highly flexible office space, alongside 150,000 square feet of retail and over 450 homes. All in all, this is a very exciting and innovative project for Reading.
Hugh explains the background to the project, “The first stage of the development was to create a friendly and welcoming area around the entrance to Reading Train Station. With so many commuters passing through the area on a daily basis to and from London, the station was a focal point in the centre of the town”.
Hugh continued, “The decision was to construct a café / coffee shop and temporary events space in the heart of the town. This had an ideal location near the main transit hub of Reading Train Station, which could serve the community whilst construction works took place. There was a desire for something functional that serviced commuters, whilst creating a space to draw visitors for social activity, it was also a way of generating revenue streams”.
A quick coffee while waiting for someone arriving on the train. A beer and glass of wine listening to the evening’s events, or a Saturday brunch, the new space was to cater for all.
The architects and planners decided on a flexible approach to the project to ensure it met the demands of all visitors. One element that could have been an issue was the limited land space available, this needed clever design and forward-thinking. This was one of the key factors which meant converted shipping containers were the ideal solution.
The Project – Converted Shipping Containers, Bringing Coffee to Commuters.
Eldapoint has been involved in many similar projects which require the creative use of shipping containers. The design, conversion and fit-out process is something our expert team relish. Just imagine sitting having a coffee in a café you helped convert from a shipping container. Before discussing the project, Hugh returned, to have a coffee and look over how the project is making a significant difference to the area. He also told us that these types of converted container projects continue to fuel his imagination.
“The project had several areas that the brief demanded solutions to. Ease of construction in a space surrounded by building works and limited access. A unit that could quickly be available and adapt to its environment from day one, whilst providing options post full site completion. I was more than up to the challenge”, an excited Hugh explains.
The solution was to fulfil these criteria:
- Temporary, solid construction that could also offer portability if required.
- An innovative space that could offer large table volumes and adaptable space.
- Provide disabled building access and toilets.
- High building security levels, weather-resistant and healthy lifecycle.
- Maximise the land and space available.
- A finished structure that would be aesthetically pleasing in design and adaptable to leaseholder brand.
The Solution – The Biscuit Tin – A Shipping Container Conversion
It’s great to see Hugh’s enthusiasm for the finished project and equally exciting to listen to his knowledge of the planning, build and technical aspects of the project. Hugh explained, “Two used, 20ft shipping containers, welded together to create a large, single internal space were chosen to deliver the basis of the construction. With the strength, as well as flexibility and solid manufacture that a shipping container offers, making these the ideal solution for a project of this kind.”
“I worked closely with the developers and the project team, discussing how the construction and space would work seasonally, offering ways to embrace good weather (Yeah, the UK does sometimes get good weather) and in turn a place to escape that typical British weather we’re all too aware of as well.”
The front aspect of the container café was fitted with full height windows and glazed folding doors which would allow maximum light into the interior. It had the added feature of allowing the folding doors to be opened up during warm summer days. These also provided a way for those relaxing within the space to watch the busy commuters go about their day. The raw shape of shipping containers lends itself well to large, landscape glass which can transform a structure and invite you in.
More and more we see buildings and units, especially within the retail sector space, appear strikingly visual from the outside in. It’s a clever solution to connect the internal space to its external surroundings.
The container café was complemented by a landscaped and decked frontage which offer views across the event space and the surrounding area. And, as you will see from the images, additions of planters, cleverly constructed from shipping container material, added a quirky nod to the construction’s humble beginnings.
“Even for me, inside and outside, it’s difficult to look back and think this building was brought to life using shipping containers. Most people would never know they were having coffee in what were shipping containers, that may have previously reached every area of the globe by sea, road and rail-track. It’s amazing what can be created with knowledge, skill and expertise.” Hugh explained.
The low-level access of a shipping container makes them ideal for creating accessible solutions for wheelchairs and prams. Part of the converted containers and fabrication we developed included disabled toilets which were easily entered using a low degree ramp.
A secure store room, providing easy access to onsite goods and supplies, as well as a staff area were also built into the container design and construction.
Shipping Containers Providing Solutions and Adding Value
Not just a place for food and drink, a meeting place for all seasons and a place which was versatile, but thanks to the strong steel construction of a converted shipping container an upper, balconied seating area was also added.
This delivered further rich real estate and provided an area that doubled up as an entertainment venue. This would have been almost impossible to construct using many other non-permanent construction methods.
Hugh went on to explain, “When you take account of the internal seating, the added upper deck and the exterior decked seated area, more tables meant added revenue opportunities for the occupiers. The exterior space has brought something different to the area, every bit as important as the internal building and complementing it, whilst enabling it to act as its own space”.
“This demonstrates why such a strong materials still offer flexible construction solutions and why shipping container conversions are so highly sought after as cost-effective solutions for many sectors”.
Sustainability and Up-cycling – The Shipping Container Ticks All the Boxes
Many of us are aware that the continued use of the planets natural resources is a concern and finding ways to recycle, or up-cycle materials is a high priority now, and for the future. The use of used shipping containers for this project was one of the key objectives for Hugh and the team. Breathing new life through converted containers delivers a sustainable approach to construction. For many brands, this is also a great way to promote their business attitude to sustainability. Eco-friendly, water-based paint was used for the exterior of the container café, adding further sustainable credentials as well as providing something that integrated well with the structure’s surroundings.
At Eldapoint, we believe in extending the life of our shipping containers. We work with our clients to ensure that when their use of a container comes to an end, we offer up-cycled or recycled solutions which are limit the waste footprint.
The Biscuit Tin – A homage to Readings Baking Heritage
Reading is famously known as the “Biscuit Town” and has a reputation and links around the world which was driven in most part by local company Huntley and Palmers, which started in the town in 1822.
The coffee shop was named to celebrate this heritage and the shipping container cafe is very reminiscent of those traditional biscuit tins many of us grew up with.
The Biscuit Tin converted cafe is now leased and operated by Red Bean Coffee, that Hugh said were key to the success of the project. “Their enthusiasm, business brand and model has been a perfect fit for a project of this kind and they have played a major part in the success of the café. They whole heartedly embraced the ‘biscuit legacy’ with their quirky and innovative interior design finishes. The interior fit-out gives the feel of being in a bricks and mortar construction, while still retaining an industrial feel which remains true to the raw elements of a shipping container, makes the unit stand triumphantly in its new location.”
There are some nice features which add a bit of fun around the biscuit theme which you will see in the images.
Electrical supply including security cameras, with fire safety lighting and equipment were added to the exterior and interior, plus constant water supplies and (that all important) beer pumps were fitted to the unit. The walls, ceiling and floors were finished to a high standard shop-fitting, which matched with customers’ expectations and giving that “coffee shop feel.”
“It’s a pleasure to look out from Reading Station and not be confronted by the grim view of the dilapidated old buildings on Station Hill which blighted the area for so long. People arriving by rail now receive a much more welcoming first impression of the town centre. I hope the new pop-up park will become a destination in its own right.” Councillor Tony Page, Deputy Leader, Reading Borough Council
Customer and User Experience of a Container Retail Unit
The overall project was a cost-effective solution, which exceeded the initial criteria and has allowed a once unused space to become an integral part of the city scape, in the heart of Reading town centre. Much has been written in the local press, including Get Reading who featured the official opening supported by the Mayor and other prominent officials. The café owners, Red Bean Coffee have also been sourcing from local food and drink producers, as reported in Alt Reading and this has added to the excitement the new café and event space has brought to a once neglected area of the town.
Container Conversion Café Projects deliver significant positive outcomes including:
- Creative use of recycled and sustainable products.
- Warm and welcoming place to meet.
- Short installation time-scales.
- Long life span of at least 10-years.
- Create a focal point for temporary event spaces.
- Family and user-friendly with kerb appeal.
- Solid, but flexible construction.
Projects like this are a testament to the cost-effective, robust and flexible solutions that converted shipping containers offer. There are many advocates around the globe quick to communicate the benefits of using shipping containers within architecture and construction, and Hugh is one of those many supporters.
“I never tire of being involved in projects as innovative as The Biscuit Tin and at Eldapoint, we are currently involved in container conversion projects for TV Production companies, Universities and housing and every day I love to deliver new ideas.”