Finding an empty space in which to run your project – be it gallery, temporary exhibition or social enterprise – can seem daunting: How do you find space. If you see an empty shop in your high street how do you find out who the landlord is? How do you approach them – can you get a lease at the right rent for your purse? However, there are tools to do this. It is possible!!
Here are some top tips drawn from my experience but also drawing on the wealth of knowledge that is out there ‘doing’ this already. You don’t have to ‘pay’ for this advice – people actually doing this in the field will happily pass on advice and pointers to assist more people, like yourself, to create a thriving arts community.
I started on my project because something was already happening on my High Street and the local council had noticed they had a problem with empty shops – so my first port of call was a community interest company called Meanwhile Space – who specialise in finding space and recycling empty shops for creative and socially minded projects:
They also have a property finder at: http://www.meanwhilespace.com/empty-property-search
Later on in the process I found out about the Empty Shops Network. This came about because of the pioneering work of Dan Thompson (who also set up Riot Clean Up). He wrote a practical guide to getting and managing an empty shop for MLA (now part of the Arts Council). Further info on Dan at: http://danthompson.co.uk/?page_id=236
The Empty Shops Network has a wealth of resources that you can access at: http://www.artistsandmakers.com/staticpages/index.php/emptyshops
And the Empty Shops Toolkit is online at:
You can also find good advice about current/past pop-up shops and projects at:
Whether you find space on your own or whether you enlist the support of a third part specialist – you can use something called a ‘Meanwhile Lease’ to take on property. A template lease is on the Department of Communities and Local Government website at:
They say that:
“This lease has been prepared as part of the Communities and Local Government’s Meanwhile Project – www.meanwhile.org.uk (external link) to encourage the temporary occupation of empty town centre retail premises by non-commercial occupiers, who will be able to contribute to town centre vitality but who would otherwise be unable to afford normal commercial rents. We envisage that temporary occupiers might include voluntary or charitable groups, information centres, artists, musicians etc.
The purpose of this specimen lease is to provide an industry standard legal instrument to minimise administrative and legal costs for both landlords and tenants and to enable temporary occupation to take place as soon as possible, without the need for lengthy legal procedures. The parties are recommended to seek legal and professional advice in each case before signing.”
Tracking down who a landlord of a property is, could be just a matter of asking around or doing a more in depth check through the Land Registry – the majority of land/property in the UK is registered (exceptions are probably only houses that have been in the same family for many generations e.g. aristocratic piles!!).
You can do a search on the title holder for a property at:
It costs a small amount of money (£4) to get the info – but this could be money well worth spending to get your project off the ground.
If you are looking to get involved in running spaces or securing empty shops as an intermediary/ facilitator then there is also a Meanwhile Intermediary Handbook available at:
Armed with the best advice you can get it is possible to avoid some of the pitfalls of setting up a pop-up gallery or taking on a meanwhile lease – it doesn’t make it any less challenging, because every project has its own unique hurdles – but I hope some of this info helps you to avoid making unnecessary mistakes whilst carrying out a great creative idea/venture.
- Landlords struggling due to lack of tenants, new levies (ekathimerini.com)
- Empty Shops Rate Sets ‘Alarm Bells Ringing’ (news.sky.com)
- Recession continues to bite as 7% of London’s shops sit empty (standard.co.uk)
- Taskforce to rescue High Streets (bbc.co.uk)
- Pop-Up Revolution Gets U.K. Shoppers in Holiday Spirit – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)