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2018: Charity’s empty space odyssey

19 March, 2018 — By By Dan Carrier

USING empty shops and businesses for temporary community spaces can save developers a fortune and invigorate neighbourhoods suffering from planning blight, according to a charity that specialises in reusing boarded-up buildings.

The people behind Space Generators, who have a long and successful history of turning disused buildings into temporary homes and community areas, are now looking to work in partnership with private developers and the Town Hall to maximise the untapped potential of high streets.

Pete Phoenix, a housing activist and Space Generators trustee, says that with some resource­fulness unused spaces can be turned into a genuine asset for neighbourhoods and high streets blighted by boarded-up buildings.

He said: “Many groups are crying out for space to use, and we can help them.”

He is speaking with councils and private property developers to show how using the charity can be rewarding for all concerned.

Space Generators take on a site and sign a “meanwhile” lease – a legally binding contract supported by the Greater London Authority (GLA) which means they will move out after being given a month’s notice so any redevelopment plans are not affected.

They have a team who organise maintenance, set up an events diary, run the administration and provide owners with a vastly reduced bill for business rates and security.

Space Generators are a not-for-profit organisation and create an income to cover costs – the owner gets a reduction of 80-100 per cent off business rates. Mr Phoenix said: “You will have a building that is a thriving cultural hub.

We have hundreds of community groups with workshops ranging from music technology to IT training, theatre, yoga, tango classes, English/ Spanish language exchanges, singing groups, through to knitting circles.”

He cites the case of Camden High Street, which has 23 properties currently empty, as to how Space Generators can offer a solution.

Mr Phoenix said: “Owners will be paying business rates or employ­ing ‘live-in guardians’ for large fees and very few rights for the temporary tenant.

Take the Black Cap, for example – it’s a prime site on the High Street. It has been closed for some time and we could use it as a resource and offer space to the LGBT community until its owners reopen it.”

Above all, it is a way of dealing with a horrendous waste of shared infrastruc­ture, says Mr Phoenix.

He added: “We offer caretaking services with some maintenance and no security costs.
You find that some owners will be paying up to £3,000 a week just to keep a building empty.

“Instead, you could house six people for an interim period and have a community centre to be proud of.

“It creates a relationship between the developer and the neighbourhood they are building in. On an economic level, it is bad for a high street to have shops boarded up.”

Space Generators have collaborated with the Church of England in Kentish Town Road for three years, had a long-running and productive relationship with the JW3 centre in Finchley Road, and looked after St George’s Theatre on Tufnell Park Road.

Mr Phoenix has been speaking with members of the GLA and Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan over the possibility of bringing in new rules regarding empty properties.

They can sign a lease for as little as six months and up to two or three years, depending on the developer’s plans.

Mr Phoenix added: “These buildings are a hugely valuable resource that is currently being wasted – and we have an answer.”

Pictured: Housing activist Pete Phoenix outside the Black Cap in Camden High Street

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