Locality, in partnership with Meanwhile Space CIC, is helping local organisations to make temporary use of empty shops on the high street to benefit the local community
The effects of the recent economic downturn have been felt throughout the country. In towns, villages and cities across England, businesses have closed and shops have been boarded up. This exacerbates the economic slump: partially vacant high streets do not encourage people to shop locally, invest in the area or develop new initiatives and businesses. The decline becomes cyclical and hard to break.
The department for Communities and Local Government has recognised that this issue needs to be addressed. ‘Meanwhile use’ describes the idea that vacant shops and other town centre properties can, and should, be used in a way that benefits the area, the local community, the local authority, and the landlord, until such a time that they can be used for commercial purposes again. Meanwhile use is not the same as a temporary lease or licence because it explicitly recognises that the search for a commercial use will be ongoing.
Why meanwhile use?
The advantages of bringing empty shops back into use are felt by:
- local community groups looking for space to meet, training providers wanting to promote informal learning activities, and arts organisations looking for studio or rehearsal space
- landlords paying empty property business rates, as premises that are occupied and used for activities such as a temporary art gallery are no longer liable for these rates
- local businesses, who want to keep their area vibrant and busy with visitors
- local people who rely on their town centres and high streets for employment, shopping, leisure, entertainment, and a wide range of other services
Meanwhile use has the potential to empower people and communities to be part of the solution to the impact of the recession. It focuses on the local and can permanently transform a community for the better by giving a space for innovative ideas that will last beyond the downturn and be felt throughout the area.
The Meanwhile Project
The Meanwhile Project was set up as part of the Town Centres policy launched in April 2009 by the then Communities Secretary Hazel Blears. The project is led by the DTA as part of its broader Advancing Assets for Communities programme. We are working with Meanwhile Space CIC who are providing support and development work in all aspects of the project. This includes the website at www.meanwhile.org.uk, which includes a ning (a social network) that is tapping into all the other networks and groupings growing up around this issue.
We are currently in the ‘explore, develop and test’ phase:
- Finding out who is doing what already and where
- Working with CLG Property to commission legal specialists to produce a ‘meanwhile’ lease to simplify the process for all stakeholders
- Developing communications – website, ning, printed materials, etc
- Exploring potential to make things happen fast in particular places
With nearly 30 potential leads, the Meanwhile Project is currently exploring opportunities in Bradford, Cambridge, Hackney, Margate, Scarborough and Hastings. The experience of these initial projects will feed into the meanwhile lease.Legal specialists are working on this at present and an initial draft of the lease will be available in July.A practical manual is being published in July by the Meanwhile Project and the Empty Shops Network to provide support and advice on starting and running meanwhile use projects.
How do I find out more?
Join in the shaping of policy and practice in this fast-emerging field at the meanwhile use social networking site, www.meanwhilespace.ning.com. Keep up to date with the projects and other developments at www.meanwhile.org.uk.
See how you can help with some research conducted for the Meanwhile Space and the Development Trust’s Association, for more information click here.
For more information, contact