When is an empty shop not an empty shop?

Since December, The Bedford Clanger/BedPop have been the unlikely ‘shopkeepers’ of 68 High Street – the former Pizza Hut building in Bedford town centre.  It is a jaw-droppingly spectacular three storey building at the end of the Victorian Arcade retaining many of its original features.  Everyone who has walked through the door has left inspired and also amazed that such a beautiful building has been over-looked for so long.  Dan Thompson – of the Empty Shops Network – knows a thing or two about slack space and declared it was the best empty shop he’d ever seen…

Empty for over six years, the unit had become a sad reflection of the state of High Streets across the country.  Thanks to a grant from the Portas Pilot Town Team and support from the Borough Council, BedPop was able to transform the vast unit into a ‘social selling’ retail space, art & photography gallery for the Christmas period.  BedPop is an initiative for local makers, designers, illustrators, artists and crafters to sell their work in retail space and the BedPop Boutique at 68 High Street provided the perfect location in the heart of the town.

Local chartered surveyors, Stimpsons Eves confirmed that BedPop’s occupation of the unit resulted in increased interest in the property.  Said Mike Duncan, ‘I’ll definitely be recommending other landlords to consider developing similar initiatives as the results have been so positive.”

Following the success of the BedPop Boutique, we have continued our collaboration with the landlord.  Our aim was to demonstrate the versatility of an empty space and to challenge the perception of a traditional ‘shop’.

So, when is an empty shop not an empty shop?

  • When it’s a pop up shop, gallery & cinema (BedPop Boutique & Picturehouse)
  • When it’s a temporary work space (Bedford Clanger HQ)
  • When it’s the base for a revolution (#bedfordrevolution)
  • When it’s an exhibition space (see the current art installation)
  • When it’s an artist’s studio (coming up on 15 March)
  • When it’s a photographic studio (used by Sarah’s Doo Wop Doos/Jez Brown and Cat Lane Photography)
  • When it’s a versatile retail space (BedPop Boutique in December 2013 and School of Craft Fabric Sale on Saturday 8 February)
  • When it’s a workshop space (#bedfordhappy workshops taking place on Tuesday 6 and 25 February)
  • When it hosts collaborative events (the forthcoming BedPop/Booktastic reading event for children in association with Waterstones and other BedPop projects)
  • When it’s a conference venue (National Portas Pilot event to be held on 6 March)
  • When it’s a performance space (watch this space….)

For over three years, Bedford has been making imaginative use of empty spaces (see much of Kayte Judge & Erica Roffe’s work with We Are Bedford).  It makes a difference to our town centre, it makes a difference to our attitude towards empty shops and it makes a difference to landlords. And that’s got to be a good thing.  Because we’d love it if there were no more empty shops in Bedford.

Editor of The Bedford Clanger, organiser behind BedPop, an events manager and a freelance copywriter

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