In London and cities across the UK, there are thousands of empty spaces. Whether it’s shops that have gone out of business or a place that is awaiting planning permission, there are all sorts of ways that such spaces end up being empty for a significant amount of time.
According to a report published in 2018, London is full of unused spaces that could be used for temporary housing, workspaces, parks, community gardens and retail, otherwise known as meanwhile uses, but are not. At the time the report was conducted, 24,400 commercial properties in London were empty and 22,500 of those had been empty for at least six months.
Increasingly, however, projects have been set up which encourage the use of these locations as ‘meanwhile spaces’ to ensure that they are not wasted. We take a look at the rise of such meanwhile spaces and give some examples of how empty spaces are being used for good.
What is a meanwhile space?
You might have guessed it by now, but a meanwhile space is where a temporary contract is used to allow individuals, small businesses or community groups to move into a vacant area while it is unused and unoccupied. The understanding is that this is a ‘meanwhile’ agreement and they will leave once the space is rented or bought.
The most obvious example is when an artist uses an empty shop or unit as a temporary gallery space. However, meanwhile spaces can be used in a whole variety of exciting and innovative ways.
The empty spaces that tend to be used as meanwhile space are vacant units in shopping centres and on high streets. Those that make use of them would not ordinarily be able to afford the high rent, but are able to take advantage of schemes which allow them to occupy them as temporary tenants.
What can meanwhile spaces be used for?
Pop-up shops and galleries
One of the more well-known uses of empty space is to place a pop-up boutique or gallery here. This gives local artists, craftspeople and small business owners the opportunity to display their work in a space that they wouldn’t normally have access to due to the high rent.
A big criticism in London is that many buildings are left empty and unoccupied while people are homeless or without access to safe accommodation. However, some charities are hoping to change this with meanwhile spaces.
This can be a bit trickier to execute than some of the other uses of the space as they aren’t always technically ‘meanwhile’ spaces. Often, when spaces are used for temporary accommodation, the goal is often to also have these as accommodation in the long-term. However, it’s a great type of initiative that is worth a mention!
Events and workshops
Another great use of meanwhile spaces is to host events, workshops and meetings here. Whether these are activities for young people (something we aim to provide through The Utilize Project) or meetings for those belonging to support groups, it’s great to have a space in a central location that everyone can access and form a strong community.
This is one of the areas that The Utilize Project is dedicated to – they want to offer affordable coworking to help new and small businesses grow and flourish. Their focus is on building communities through making use of spaces that would otherwise be completely unused.
On a similar note, lots of meanwhile spaces are used as ‘mixed’ community venues, which can include coworking, events, gallery or shop spaces and a community cafe.