Time to get creative with vacant space
The UK population is growing, and the damaging trend – ‘buy to leave’ – is greatly reducing the availability of housing. The problem is exacerbated in London. The Financial Times reported last year that a staggering 10.5% of Kensington and Chelsea’s total housing stock is classified as vacant. To put that figure into context, that’s 9,169 flats and houses combined.
I’m proud of what everyone at Lowe Guardians has achieved– it represents the polar opposite of the ‘buy to leave’ scheme that plagues the borough. In one of London’s most affluent areas, Chelsea, we’ve been able to provide nearly 40 young and ambitious guardians with an affordable housing option. We are instilling a sense of community and providing a realistic alternative for London’s young professionals, but most of all, we are making the most of the valuable space we’ve been given.
The current conservative government has placed great emphasis on the importance of building more homes across the UK to alleviate the current housing crisis. Whilst this is undoubtedly important, not enough emphasis is placed upon being clever with the building stock that we do have.
It’s absolutely vital for governments, communities and business alike to appreciate that in 2017, space has become precious. Rather than simply build, build, build; turning our entire country into a metropolis; let’s become smarter. London – and the UK generally – is not limitless in terms of space. We have to become smart and innovative in the way that we use it.
I’m not just talking about property guardian schemes either, any programme or initiative out there that takes a vacant space and uses it to drive the economy; provide housing, or give something back to the community should be promoted and encouraged.
Therefore, I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight three of my favourite initiatives in London that are taking advantage of disused space:
Printworks is a 6,000 capacity licensed venue for music and arts that is set to transform London’s music and cultural scene. The 120,000 square foot space is located in Surrey Quays, based upon 16 acres of private gated land, and is a former printing factory that once delivered The Metro and Evening Standard newspapers to London. For too long, this amazing space was totally unoccupied, and it is projects like this that deserve huge recognition for transforming a disused building into a ground breaking new, multi-purpose event space.
Lemonade and Laughing Gas is a theatrical events company that was set up by two artists that have a passion for multi-textured, surprising experiences. They have put on events in unusual spaces all over London, from disused pickle factories to old rave haunts, to regency ballrooms. Again, the idea of offering something totally new and different, and maximising the potential of quirky unused locations, chimes very well with us here at Lowe Guardians.
3psace is a non-profit urban agency that works with corporates, government and developers to unlock and maximise their otherwise under-utilised or surplus commercial property. The premise of the business is to create short-term affordable creative studio and workspaces for local innovation. Like Lowe Guardians, 3space believe in getting more out of buildings, giving them new purpose and making them work for local communities.
I believe that the government should be developing considered policies that encourage more businesses like this to prosper. It doesn’t have to be financial support, but start-ups should certainly be given more freedom in gaining access to disused space if they have a good way of improving it. I’ve seen too many good start-ups be blocked by governmental ‘red tape.’ It’s time to start nurturing organisations that enrich what we already have.