Guest blogger Donna Mizzi on the value of pop up shops and a strong plea to Redbridge Council to take up legislation changes

Pop up shopWanstead’s very first Pop-up shop space was warmly welcomed by residents, visitors and fellow shopkeepers in September this year.  Believed to be the first independent Pop-up in the borough, the high street premises opened for two weeks to promote and complement the sixth art trail organised by Art Group Wanstead.  

Many towns and cities across UK have been embracing Pop-ups for years, particularly since the last recession hit in 2008.  It’s been more than two years after planning rules for temporary retailers were relaxed by Parliament to get more disused shops into occupation and we think our Pop-up shop was the first one in the borough! Clearly, more needs to be done. It is important for Redbridge that this new legislation is seized as an opportunity to help the local economy.  

Kathy just asked, the landlord said yes!

Kathy just asked, the landlord said yes!

This borough has the highest number of business start-ups and also the highest number of closures in London!  Surely it’s time for Redbridge Council to start encouraging Pop-ups by cutting business rates for participating property owners (still charging full rates are often cited as the major disincentive), and even to appoint an officer to help give advice.  Our pilot showed the value of community involvement in the High Street – we brought at least 800 volunteer hours to an otherwise empty shop.

Art Group Wanstead’s experience over the past six years has shown that there is no publicised inducement for property owners to allow pop-up businesses to use their premises.  The result is that some shops remain an eyesore for years.  One shop recently leased on Wanstead High Street  was empty for more than 10 years.  Research has found that empty shops lead to lower footfall, which has a detrimental effect on neighbouring businesses. More shops then often close, leading to a downward spiral in many town centres, sometimes leading to neglect and anti-social behaviour. Many areas have been blighted as shops have closed downBut, renewal for the borough’s High Streets would come from enabling community and small traders to get involved in temporary pop-up developments.

A beautiful mural painted for free!

A beautiful mural painted for free!

Pop-up premises are a way to keep an area exciting and appealing to new customers – often offering services or goods that are generally hard to find (such the art and craft workshops for adults and children at our Wanstead Pop-up).  Even using shop windows as temporary display areas  (art is ideal for this) is a great way to keep an area lively and attractive.

As a bonus for owners, the shops are almost inevitably returned in a much better state after a Pop-up business has used the premises – this is a commonly-made observation. In Wanstead, we cleared junk, cleaned it throughout, tidied up rough areas left from recent replastering, repainted the interior, carried out some lighting repairs and made the windows sparkle.

Pop-ups can be used as shops or as something quite different from retail, depending on who takes the spaces. 

  • Habiba at pop up shop

    Habiba on her recycling stall

    A space could be used for:  A new shop concept or range… A gallery… Various markets and fairs, including more unusual themes for local fairs eg  gardening, interiors…  Seasonal/festival calendar
    events eg products ideal for the Christmas market… Launching new business services – eg a new picture hanging service for homes… Workshops for adults or children… Classes… Clubs… A community centre for information dissemination, talks and workshops … A charity… Health information- eg about dementia… Entertainment on a small scale, eg puppet shows and puppet workshops.

Some very well known companies and businesses (eg Chanel) have used Pop-up shops as a way of reaching a new customer base, or trying out a new type of product.

Christmas is a major retail season and needs to be utilised more by the high streets. There was a weekly pre-Xmas pop up space a couple of ago in a busy spot in Leytonstone that was used for a variety of craft stalls, which was a great use of space.  There was a similar pilot in Ilford Exchange last year but it really needed more time to get known, and ideally a more craft-friendly location. 

Forest Gate Emporium hires out shelf space

Forest Gate Emporium hires out shelf space

An emporium idea would also be a good way of various businesses sharing space — a couple have opened in Forest Gate (as a direct result of the Woodgrange community market  and Leyton. Someone runs them and each person rents a small amount of space, or a shelf etc. It’s a good way of filling a shop and then being able to get it emptied again quickly if someone takes the shop!  

There are endless ways in which pop-up spaces can be used, and Redbridge can’t afford to ignore these chances to help emerging businesses and the high street.  It finally needs to get to grips with this exciting opportunity.  

To read our review of the borough’s first Pop-up shop see the October issue of the Wanstead Directory (pages 17, 18 and 53) or click here. (I’ll put a link to the text you gave me Donna)

Wanstead arts trailDonna Mizzi

Donna Mizzi founded Art Trail Wanstead in 2010 and formed Art Group Wanstead to continue running the event.  She also runs Flamingo Fairs, a small business and community-enhancing enterprise, which helped to get Art Group Wanstead off the ground. Flamingo Fairs supports and promotes Redbridge arts and crafts people. Its events are currently held monthly at Wanstead Library’s hall. 

For a recent blog by Geoff Hill, Chair of Redbridge Chamber on the need for business premises to be safeguarded by the Council see


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