A Small Studio has worked in south London for a decade and always wanted a workspace that was closer to the community to avoid working in a silo within an office building. We struggled to find anywhere suitable. In 2019 we made the risky investment of buying an empty, run-down shop that had been vacant for years on a declining high street with little footfall.
We changed the use of the shop into a creative co-working space. It now has a community room for meeting, a yard for making and a high-tech serviced zone for working. Siting our business here supports local retail and services by bringing people into the area during working hours and regenerating a run-down strip of the high street where there is currently little sense of place. The new space provides affordable and flexible working space locally. This is a pilot project for how to innovate high streets and increase their occupancy levels by shifting the current use from mainly commercial to a hybrid working, shopping, eating, meeting and creating. Locally.
However, this was a complicated process: The Local Authority didn’t understand the changing needs of retail and was fixated on the Local Plan which insisted on maintaining the use of the space as ‘commercial’ despite its ongoing vacancy. But times were changing! Retail is in crisis; flexible working is on the rise and consumers want experiences as well as shopping. At A Small Studio we are trying to address this challenge by using our ‘empty shop to co-work space’ conversion as a pilot project for high street innovation.