‘Meanwhile spaces’ said to be the answer to supporting London’s SMEs

‘Meanwhile spaces’ are said to be transforming the capital through temporarily housing SMEs and community first startups.

A new report by the London Green Party has revealed that almost 800 publicly owned spaces in London alone have been neglected and remain empty.

The report, led by Sian Berry, further explained that the majority of these spaces were shops, office spaces, industrial units, along with community spaces, including meeting rooms and community centres.

With most closures reportedly due to business struggles, rather than development delays, social enterprise, the Utilize Project, believes that transforming such locations into ‘meanwhile space’ projects, which involves properties being utilised through temporary occupancy, could be the answer to supporting SMEs to help rebuild the community.

At current, over two thirds of the current empty spaces have no meanwhile space use, nor do they have plans for future meanwhile prospects.

Mahmud Shahnawaz, founder of The Utilize Project, explained: “It is no surprise that the majority of London’s empty spaces are a result of business closures as the capital has the highest commercial rental rates in Europe.”

“Such high prices mean it is almost impossible for small businesses to survive, and so meanwhile space projects allow them to have a temporary home at discounted rates. Empty units are filled, and SMEs can build a presence in the community, making it a win-win situation for both the business itself and the local area.”

Commercial rent has been at an all-time high since last year, with retail spaces costing as much as £2,175 per square foot annually in some areas of London.

Other major UK cities, such as Leeds and Birmingham, also saw increases in commercial rent, reaching annual prices of between £150 and £190 per square foot in 2021, a rise of 7 per cent and 5 per cent respectively over just 6 months.

For the Women’s Network, a community group based in Isle of Dogs which offers mental health, educational and social programmes for women, a physical space was “crucial” to carry out their services effectively. Yet, price increases meant that this wasn’t achievable.

A spokesperson from the organisation commented: “Finding a suitable space that can accommodate our numbers, especially at an affordable rate for a small organisation like ours, has been a nightmare in London. Since being recommended to the Utilize Project, our initiatives, mainly the coffee mornings, have been a great hit with the locals.”

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