This season sees the opening of several of London’s most exciting new members’ clubs, and today marks the launch of one that might look more than a little familiar: The Conduit club is opening its doors again, only this time they’ve moved from Mayfair to a grand new location in the heart of Covent Garden. With six floors housing two restaurants, a roof terrace, a broadcast studio, a bookshop and office space for impact businesses, as well as a community dedicated to bringing about social, economic and environmental change, it’s set to be one of the capital’s brightest new spots. Here, we speak to the club’s founder Paul van Zyl about what to expect from the revamped offering.
When The Conduit in Mayfair closed last October, it came as a surprise to many. After all, the ethical private members’ club, which had opened just two years previously, was founded on the belief that by bringing together a collaborative community at its seven-floor site on Conduit Street, it could accelerate solutions to the world’s greatest problems.
And yet, like a phoenix from the ashes, The Conduit is back, with founder Paul van Zyl – Executive Secretary of South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, also the co-founder of the International Center for Transitional Justice and CEO of luxury eco fashion brand Maiyet – and financier Nicholas Hamilton now welcoming its 3,000-plus members to a new site in Covent Garden.
“Covent Garden has a really good metaphor for The Conduit because it’s a trading hub and it has entrepreneurship and culture,” says van Zyl. “As we’re trying to support dynamic entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s biggest challenges, it’s a logical place to be.”
The club is located in a handsome listed building on Langley Street, owned by The Mercers’ Company, a 700-year-old institution with deep philanthropic traditions. “The thing that we learnt from our first closure is that it’s important to have a values-aligned landlord,” van Zyl continues. “They’re the perfect landlord because they have a 100-year outlook, they do good and they’re place makers, and those are all the things that we really care about.”
The Conduit ethos is built around eight thematic areas: racial equity, climate action and sustainability, education and development, employment and economic opportunity, sexuality and gender equity, peace and justice, health and wellbeing, and arts and culture. To be accepted, members need to not only share the club’s values, but also be committed to promoting change . “If you are passionate and curious about positive social change and you’re interested in solutions rather than problems, this is a dynamic, successful community of people who are working on those solutions,” van Zyl explains.
Membership will work in a similar way to the previous club’s two-tier system. The ‘full membership’ option (£1,800 per annum) is aimed at the likes of investors, philanthropists and senior leaders in the corporate world, while the under 33 social impact membership scheme (£1,200 per annum) is geared towards social entrepreneurs and people who work in not-for-profits or cause-oriented businesses. However people from any background can apply – especially if they are passionate and curious about social change.
Judging by The Conduit’s ambassadors – which include Shamil Thakrar, Co-Founder of Dishoom; Nigel Kershaw OBE, Chair of The Big Issue Group and The Big Exchange; author Elif Shafak; writer, broadcaster and former barrister Afua Hirsch; Danny Sriskandarajah, CEO of Oxfam GB; BBC News journalist Razia Iqbal; and June Sarpong OBE, Director of Creative Diversity at the BBC – the club is off to a flying start.
“This new model for connecting people is helping to nurture a movement of passionate individuals who are committed to creating positive change in our world,” ambassador June Sarpong OBE says.
The club’s admirable values feed into everything, from the décor to the cuisine on offer at its two restaurants. “We sourced goods from artisans around the world, such as tiles from South Africa and baskets from Swaziland, while the supply chain in terms of F&B, from coffee to fruit and vegetables to wine selection, pushes the boundaries of sustainability” van Zyl says. They’ve also committed to no single-use plastics in their kitchens and are building a giant solar installation on the roof in an attempt to make the building as carbon friendly as possible.
Russell Sage Design, the studio behind such projects as The Goring, Home House and Fife Arms, was in charge of the interior design, along with Feix & Merlin Architects, the firm behind Henry’s Townhouse and The Garrick, which led on the renovation of the six-floor building. The décor draws on the building’s heritage, making use of its natural brick and steel girders, but infused with warmth, vibrancy and creativity in the form of colourful murals by decorative artist Timna Woollard and beautiful ceramic Delft tiles made in South Africa and hand-painted by Anton Bosch, the son of master potter Esias Bosch.
As part of a phased launch, the club will house a public-facing restaurant on the ground floor from October, where members and non-members can sample seasonal, sustainable and ethical-led cuisine – think seatrout carpaccio with pickled cucumber and salsa verde, and fresh pasta made in-house. Paying tribute to the building’s former use as a warehouse when Covent Garden was a fruit and veg market, the restaurant will champion locally sourced ingredients, as well as offering a range of sustainable and ethical products available to buy. The building will be completed in spring 2022 with the opening of a rooftop restaurant and terrace with striking city views, areas to have meetings and engage in networking, and impact offices.
The Mayfair club’s library has been replaced with a bookshop, created in partnership with local Seven Dials bookstore Stanfords, which stocks 1,000 titles that tie into the eight themes The Conduit is aligned with. There’s also a new podcast studio where members can record audio and video content.
A major focus of the club will be a new hybrid version of The Conduit’s famous programme of events, which has seen industry leaders and Nobel Prize winners such as Christiane Amanpour, Muhammed Yunus, Al Gore and Christiana Figueres give exclusive talks to members. “Before the pandemic, there was a huge waitlist for the talks, but we didn’t record them so when it was over, it was over,” says van Zyl. “Previously, it was all physical, but during the pandemic, we developed a digital programme, which was highly regarded.” Going forward, the team is planning a hybrid programme of physical and digital events which more members will be able to engage with in real time face-to-face or later online.
The Conduit will use such events to catalyse conversations among members and build out an engaging interactive programme that goes beyond hosted talks. “Imagine Al Gore comes and gives a talk about the latest climate challenges,” he explains. “We’ll record the highlights of that and play it back to our members on Monday, and then on Thursday, three of our most prominent members who are working on financing solutions to the climate crisis will lead a conversation.”
Events based around social change will be interspersed with activities such as wine pairing evenings, culinary tastings, themed dinners and seasonal parties. Alongside these the club has collaborated with local businesses on a series of special events, including morning dance and yoga classes hosted by Pineapple Dance Studios and film and documentary screenings by the London Film School. The Conduit will also be bringing back its chef programme, which has previously hosted globally acclaimed chefs including Massimo Bottura, Søren Westh, Jeremiah Stone & Fabian Von Hauske Valtierra, Jeremy Chan and Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins.
Another new launch for 2021 is the Conduit Cause, an initiative that’s run by a coalition of members on an issue that they care about, drawing on the convening power of the club’s membership to accelerate change. “Whether that’s a campaign to move a set of homeless people from a state of vulnerability into employment and shelter, or planting a certain number of trees, we’ll pick causes and throw our community into it,” van Zyl says.
During the pandemic, The Conduit also invested in staff and infrastructure for its sister company, Conduit Connect, which has so far raised £10m capital for impact enterprises. “More and more entrepreneurs are going to be founding businesses to achieve social good,” van Zyl says. “The pandemic has made purpose and social change 10 times more relevant than it ever was before, and that’s been the core of The Conduit from the very outset.”
“If you look back at history, times of crisis catalyse a golden era of entrepreneurship because there’s something irreducibly human in wanting to solve problems. And we’re seeing that in the level of interest in the new club,” he says, adding that following the pandemic is the ideal time to join a club such as The Conduit. “In order to create a sustainable world, you have to sustain yourself. This means building a network, forming relationships and experiencing joy and comfort.”
The Conduit, 6 Langley Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2; theconduit.com