Worthing Borough Council’s empty shop

In 2009 and 2010, the then-Labour government gave grants to 107 towns and cities around the UK, totalling £2.6 million.

Those funds were to encourage councils to try, test and experiment in their town centres as the recession hit. So how was the £52,000 given to Worthing used?

Around £44,000 of the funding paid the rent and rates for two years use of 40 Ann Street, Worthing as a co-working space.

A new Community Interest Company called Worthing First was set up to manage the project. Directors include Conservative councillor Noel Atkins, former councillor Peter Bennett and Carl Clarke, the then husband of the council-funded Worthing Town Centre Manager. A final director was Jim Cunliffe, director of 19 other companies and a man also involved in managing events for the Worthing Town Centre Manager.

The building had been in use until shortly before Worthing First took over, as a design and print studio.

They appointed a manager for the building, and opened after an extensive refurbishment and applying branding to the shop’s windows. However, the project failed to attract interest and closed its doors after only a few months.

Worthing First have, however, paid up front for two years use of the space which has sat empty (although their website says they have ceased trading). Their lease will expire in January 2013.

So Worthing Borough Council’s empty shop funding paid to keep a shop empty for two years.

nb: Two small changes have been made; Worthing Town Centre Manager has asked that it be made clear that she has since divorced Carl Clarke. Worthing First asked me to amend ‘have continued to pay for the space’ to reflect the fact that, in front, they paid rent for the whole two years up front.

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10 thoughts on “Worthing Borough Council’s empty shop

  1. Hi Dan. In order to secure the location, upfront payment of two years rent was initially made. I believe this period will be over, Jan 2013. The project didn’t fail to attract interest, there were in fact problems with the building (roof leaks) which rendered the space inhabitable. Unfortunate. The unit did manage to assist about 50 new business startups over its short life, exactly what it was setup for.

  2. Interestingly, the only reason I know about this is because one of the directors mistakenly offered me the use of the building for a month (I was enquiring about another shop in the same street). Which rather suggests that a leak wasn’t the problem, as Jim says above; if it was, how would the director be able to offer use of the building?

  3. As the owner of a premises that is used privately as a co-working space (virtual offices, hot desk, meeting room, shared space) I am constantly battling “funded” enterprises who don’t have the same overheads as me. I can’t compete on price with organisations that have nothing to pay… This project proves the waste that happens all over the place. But worse, it shows how our tax revenue is spent in a way that is damaging to other businesses too! I am sure a local entrepreneur could have opened up a co-working space and let desks / meeting rooms etc for a small, but fair fee, enabling them to occupy some space too… as I do with my premises.

    In my area we have “council funded” co-working spaces who are ruthlessly competitive and we simply can’t compete with those who have their bills paid for them.

    Initiatives like this aren’t only wasteful, they put other businesses who do similar things into a position where there is no hope of competing, ultimately, and like with so many things it would seem, putting the entrepreneurs out of business!

    Disgraceful, on many levels!

  4. As an entrepreneur who runs exactly the same type of business I’m appalled at the level of wastage here. I refuse to believe that a space such as this required two years upfront rental when it a) required refurbishment and b) stood amongst many other empty buildings. My building, in the centre of Southsea, was secured with no deposit and a free rental period of 4 months. It was also in a good state of repair – something I searched for and found due to the amount of available buildings.

    I have tried (and failed) to secure any funding and be turned down due to the risky nature of the business. This story just goes to show that it’s not always the business that is the risky element in a project – it’s those chosen to run it.

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