Spark: York loses it's shine


The popular destination has had to cover up the iconic shipping container exterior, under the orders of York City Council.

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Image by Alice Weetman

By Charlotte Lear

After a long-winded struggle, Spark: York has lost its battle with York City Council and has had to clad the exterior of the shipping container set-up with timber planks in order to remain on Piccadilly for another two years.

Having been dubbed ‘a blot on the landscape,’ a ‘visual disgrace’ and a ‘raucous watering hole’ by local residents, the vibrant exterior has now been reduced to somewhat of a blank canvas, offering little indication of the life inside from the outside. Despite the fact that the aim to clad the outside was in the planning permission from the beginning, Spark’s owners decided to take a more cost-effective option considering it is a community interest company that cannot benefit the owners financially even if the business were to increase in value. Thus, they sought to appeal the planning permission and keep the artwork which was vehemently denied. The cladding was completed mid-May and one can only guess at the unnecessary cost to a business that is already suffering due to the impact of Covid-19. Spark is now at the mercy of the council and their new ‘muscular’ (what does that even mean?) regulations causing them to be out of business at the slightest breach of contract.

Since its conception in 2018, Spark has helped over 40 start-up businesses get off their feet and many into permanent tenancies in the city centre, adding more than £500,000 to the local economy. In providing their customers with a wide variety of culinary delights from bao buns to milkshakes, Spark is tearing down economic boundaries for York’s most-loved small, independent businesses.

Forgive me, then, for wondering why the council are making them put further boundaries in place. Unless I’m being a bit poetic in likening timber cladding to an inhibitor of flourishing independent food businesses. Probably.

However, Spark is not the first of its kind and it is amongst a burgeoning trend of casual street food dining amongst majoritively Millennial and Gen Z customers. In a 2019 Government report on Gen Z food trends it was even found that “Gen Z are the most likely to consume food outside of the home” with “eating out, takeaways and fast food” as established parts of their/our diets.

Digbeth Dining Club has had heralding success over the past few years with the Culture Trip having described it as ‘taking Birmingham by storm.’ Not to mention the vast expansion of Roger Wade’s Boxpark initiative with plans to open 10 new sites over the next five years. He goes so far as to say that he’s ‘always equated shipping containers with success’ due to his experience in the wider consumer goods industry in an interview with Dazed Digital.

As we consider the popularity of similar concepts elsewhere, there is little indication as to why York City Council would want to mute the exuberant personality of Spark’s design other than to shelter it from view of more conservative (and lets face it, boring) residents.

Though this paints a rather bleak landscape for the more creative food scene in York, the emergence of Spark: Go and other takeaway services from independent food businesses due to the pandemic shows that this industry will always be ready to fight back. I’d like to think that Spark remains at the centre of York Indie food, wooden planks and all.