The Empty Shops Agenda*

The a, b, c, of Empty Shops

“The fact that the trees are in blossom very briefly is what makes them important to us.” Tim Anselm (The Beekeepers blog, 1st Apil 2009)

This is an agenda for people using empty shops, slack space and setting up meanwhile projects, looking at the when, why and how of empty shops based on years of experience. It’s also an attempt to make it clear that not every project is perfect for an empty shop. These are special places, and the meanwhile shopkeepers are special people.

a. Embrace The Meanwhile

Like the Buddhists say, it’s about living in the moment. Right now, there’s lots of empty space and all the experts agree, by the time I finish writing this sentence there will be even more. 1000 shops a week are closing. When we’re out of the current recession, there won’t be as much.

Enjoy it while you can – move quickly, be agile, and think on your feet, or you’ll miss it. Grasp the nettle, grab the moment, and embrace the meanwhile. What did you do in the recession, daddy?

b. Find The Character

Using empty shops for temporary pop-up projects is about much more than getting an idea onto the high street for cheap. The best projects are celebrating the local, finding the distinctive, engaging with the character of empty spaces, exploring new ideas and exciting the neighbourhood. As such, they are useful for community groups, local authorities and central government wanting to address a variety of different agendas.

These projects and the places have their own character – find it and embrace it, don’t try to make it look like everything else on the street – or like everything else you do, either.

c. Enjoy The End

The success of an empty shop project may be measured in many ways. It can increase footfall for a neighbourhood, supporting local traders. It can raise the profile of a community event. It can bring together a new partnership, whether that’s a group of excited, inspired and engaged individuals or a working relationship between organisations and authorities.

And it’s quite alright for a project not to work. Like Becket said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Empty shops make great laboratories for new ideas and new businesses. And– in a week, a month, or half a year – it will all be over. Look forward to the end, it means it’s time to start planning a new project.

*well, it was a manifesto – but that’s a bit ranty. A polite agenda, maybe.

Written as part of the Empty Shops Network project

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