For the past two years Queens Parade in Willesden Green have been run by Meanwhile Space C.I.C. With the help of small local businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs the social enterprise has within a short time turned otherwise vacant properties into a place for small and creative businesses to flourish.
Since opening in 2012 Queens Parade has been considered a runaway success, with Time Out magazine quickly rating it as one of the nine best shopping locations in London. This is an amazing turnaround for a small complex of disused shops and is a great example of shops should not stand empty.
Meanwhile Space is a social enterprise that utilizes empty space by providing small businesses and community groups with affordable short term leases. This not only helps organisations try new ideas, or expand with low risk, but helps landlords keep costs down on vacant property. By providing accessible commercial opportunities the social enterprise also benefits the local area, by creating new footfall and helping to reduce antisocial behaviour, such as vandalism, associated with empty properties.
Speaking with The Big Issue Online Journalists Stuart Gould, one of the benefactors of Meanwhile Space and director of Stables in Exile on Queens Parade, said: “There are three galleries here now, it has become a real creative hub.”
Stables in Exile is a great example of the non typical and somewhat quirky businesses that have set up shop in the parade and even though the tenancy agreement is for the short term Gould does not see this as an obstacle. He added: “It does make it difficult to plan long term, but we’re used to it.”
The newly deployed businesses cover a wide range of specialised shops including; Gurasu Fine Crystal – a fine crystal and glassware shop, to Brent Artist Resource – An art gallery and co-working space. This project came from the brain child of Meanwhile Space, and Eddie Bridgeman, director of Meanwhile Space CIC, explained the beginning of New Windows:
Speaking with the Big Issue Online Journalists Eddie Bridgeman, “It emerged from the program that the London mayor’s office ran. He had a funding program called the Outer London Fund that was created specifically to look at high streets and how high streets can be given some new impetus and freshness.” Adding: “We put in a proposal to the mayor’s office and we were successful.”
Bridgeman went onto explain that negative activities like, anti social behaviour has decreased and a certain amount of rejuvenation has occurred, with the once desolate shops being put into use and brought out of their inactive status. But it has been a challenging process, with lack of information being the main obstacle to utilising empty properties.
“There are numerous operational challenges. We have found Brent Council to be the most open and helpful. Not all London boroughs are as open, but this is more due to a lack of information than specific resistance from them.”
The project has been a success, with demand high and most places easily filled from shopkeepers to artists and Bridgeman made a point of voicing his view that businesses should be given the opportunity to fail. Bridgeman then went onto to explain this further:
”If someone uses our space and then in three weeks time they go ‘actually, you know, I can’t make it as a dressmaker or a juice maker or whatever it might be, I’m going to go and join the Tesco training scheme’ that’s absolutely fine. But now they’ve tried and had a go.”
He went on to say that some people are not sure what they want to do, and that it’s important to let everyone have a go of it. In the end the real success is seeing people create something and seeing that flourish.
To find out more about Meanwhile Space visit their website