How do we restore our town centres into exciting and bustling destinations?
How do we build the new start-ups that will provide jobs for our young people?
How do we create the social enterprises, sustainable businesses and creative manufacturing that will add real value to our economy?
Anyone who says they have the answer is probably lying. If we had the answers, then we wouldn’t be where we are today.
So if we aren’t sure about the answers then what do we do? Well, we can try things. Test them to see what works, experiment. In fact, we have to – what’s the alternative? Indeed, even this untested and unpredictable experimentation itself may help make our towns and high streets a little more exciting, give young people entrepreneurial experience, and inspire others, even if some of the ideas don’t change the world in the long term.
This is where a ‘meanwhile’ model of using empty shops, offices, land and space gives us a real opportunity in the short term to feel for the solutions that will help create longer term social, environmental and economic prosperity.
Meanwhile Space CIC is a social enterprise with expertise in meanwhile uses for empty spaces, re-imagining the commercial use of property and the untapped opportunities that vacant spaces present. Meanwhile Space works in various locations around the UK, including delivering a project in Lurgan and Portadown in Craigavon over the last few years, which has since been handed over to a local partnership group to continue.
Meanwhile Space CIC worked with Craigavon Borough Council, Chamber of Commerce, Development Trusts NI and UnLtd to explore the feasibility for temporary uses in Lurgan and Portadown. The first empty space in Lurgan was transformed by Victoria Cunningham-Downey of www.stretchni.co.uk into a yoga studio business.
Meanwhile Space CIC now has a template meanwhile lease for Northern Ireland to enable meanwhile uses and a local partnership structure to mobilise activity in empty spaces.
There is considerable interest now from Northern Ireland looking to replicate what has worked elsewhere and to broaden the reach of the concept of meanwhile use. Here is a model which enables ideas to be tried at a low cost, which can build confidence for those who are unsure of their entrepreneurial confidence, which can improve the look and feel of a high street, and which can excite and inspire.
So why not try it?
Dan Gregory is an independent advisor on funding and finance of social enterprise. He works with Meanwhile Space CIC and others to help create opportunities for meanwhile or pop-up use in Bristol and the South West of England. For more information, please see www.meanwhilespace.com and www.popupbristol.com.