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TECHNOLOGY

London offices work on water

By Julie Clothier for CNN

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The inside of the canal boats used as offices look similar to any other business premises.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Deep in the heart of central London, a handful of businesses are occupying an unconventional "office block."

Just a stone's throw away from the city's financial district, a collection of canal boats sit in a pocket of London's extensive waterways.

Once of those is advertising agency 360 Degrees, which moved its offices to a barge on Regent's Canal after failing to find affordable accommodation that suited the company's needs.

Rents are high in London and companies pay a lot for small office spaces, and 360 Degrees managing director Roger Juniper says the barge was the best solution for his growing company.

He said in many ways his company's office looks like any other -- it is modern, has air conditioning and is open plan.

"For a small organization like ours, there are absolutely no drawbacks. There's always something happening on the canal -- there's a real buzz around here."

The company's boats, "Daisy" and "Lily," are fitted with broadband, which means being on the water is barely different from being on land, Juniper said.

"When we first moved in three and a half years ago, we had a cable telephone system and an internal network that had to be connected up via an ISDN phone line. When we went to broadband the quality was much better."

Both boats are 1,000 square foot (93 square meters) and each is linked up to the mainland water and sewerage systems.

Meanwhile, across the city, more small companies are taking to the water at the historic Paddington Basin.

One of the businesses based there is Exotic Farm Produce, a company that encourages sustainable and environmentally friendly production of food from around the world.

Exotic Farm Produce supplies food to the grocery line of British food giant Mark's and Spencer, which conveniently has its headquarters next to where their barge is moored.

Each of the barges in the development is about 700 square feet (65 square meters) and has an office area, a kitchen and bathrooms -- plenty of space for an aspiring small business looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Managing director Robert Levison told CNN that the barge housed the company's six-person sales and marketing team but had the capacity for up to 25 people.

"It's a brilliant base for our sales and marketing team. It can actually work out cheaper than a land-based office. It operates as if it's a land-based office, with broadband and we're connected to water and sewerage systems on land."

The project has been set up by the Paddington Development Corporation and British Waterways in an effort to regenerate London's waterways, both for business use and as a leisure facility.

"Historically Paddington Basin was the centerpiece of the Grand Union Canal and one of the busiest points on the waterway system," said Mark Bensted of British Waterways.

"These new business barges will combine with a range of restaurant boats, visiting narrow boats, hire boats and even a floating classroom to bring the Basin back to life again."

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