Insight into pilot programme trialling meanwhile uses on UK high streets
In 2019 the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government launched Open Doors, a pilot programme managed by Meanwhile Foundation in partnership with Meanwhile Space CIC, to explore whether challenges facing UK high streets could be addressed by enabling communities to use empty buildings for a meanwhile period. Open Doors has now ended, and two reports published this week provide insight for those interested in learning more about the programme or creating something similar in their own locality.
Open Doors was a one-year programme matching landlords struggling to find tenants for their empty properties with community groups looking for space. Five empty high street properties - in Bradford, Fenton (Stoke-on-Trent), Kettering, Rochford and Slough - were selected to take part. The spaces were simply refurbished and offered free of charge to local individuals and organisations with ideas and projects that could bring positive social change to their high streets. In the words of Adam Syrop, who used the space in Bradford as Impact Gamers, a club where children meet to design computer games: "There's so many closed shops in Bradford that it was like a little ray of hope."
Meanwhile Space has published a report to explain how Open Doors was set up and operated, with the hope that this might be helpful for others looking to establish their own meanwhile projects. The report also contains a summary of information gathered from Meanwhile Space impact assessments, and a look at what can be learned for future projects.
'Open Doors: Pilot Programme Report' includes: - How it worked: How the sites were identified, set-up and managed, and how they were used. - Timeline: Key milestones and important events. - Impact: How well the project achieved its objectives - relieving loneliness, increasing footfall, building socially and economically stronger communities, promoting high street community uses, supporting landlords struggling with empty properties, activating empty spaces. - Case studies: Reflections on the project, from the perspective of those involved. - Lessons learned: What worked well, and ideas for the future.
Open Doors was independently evaluated by IFF Research to help inform future government policy and funding decisions. An analysis of data gathered through this process, setting out key findings and recommendations, has been published by MHCLG.
'Open Doors pilot programme: evaluation report' concludes: - Key findings: The programme provided significant benefits to space users and landlords. - Key recommendations: Sites should be located in central high street locations, meanwhile use should be trialled on a larger scale to realise wider economic and social benefits, a network should be built linking meanwhile projects.
View the full report here - Open Doors pilot programme: evaluation report
Covid-19 accelerated many of the changes already affecting high streets, including the growth of online retail. Vacancy rates are rising, and city centres are hollowing out as office workers stay at home. At the same time, as Meanwhile Space Project Director Louise Brooks explains: "we have all become more aware of the importance of our local neighbourhoods. As we rethink the purpose of town centres, we have an opportunity to open them up for their communities by using empty buildings as spaces where social, cultural and entrepreneurial ideas can flourish." Meanwhile Space is now working with partners to create a package of tools and guidance that will support all those across the country who seek to use meanwhile to help their high streets recover from the pandemic and find a new future.