Valuing the Market

When Lambeth Council introduced us to the owners of Brixton Village/​Granville Arcade a year ago, there were twenty shops sitting empty in the market. Its current manager tells me that in the ten years he has worked there, under two different owners, he doesn’t remember a time when there were fewer than fifteen units empty.

We persuaded the owners to fund us to run a project which would take shops that would otherwise be sitting empty and let people use them rent-​free for up to three months. This wasn’t an idea which came out of nowhere — there had been art events in the market before, there were the ASC studios upstairs and projects like Cabinet of Curiosity had led the way for artists using unlet shops at Granville. There was also a national movement to make better use of empty shops, something we’d been involved in since early 2009, alongside the Empty Shops Network and Meanwhile Space.

This project has succeeded in making the shops at the back of the market viable again by bringing new visitors in. (I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who start by telling me, “I’ve been walking past this place for years and I never knew it was here!” or “I remember coming here with my mum when I was a kid — it’s great to see it so full of life.”)

We completely agree with Cllr Rachel Heywood, as quoted in last Friday’s South London Press, that “the mix of traders both new and established” is essential to the long-​term future of the market. The achievements of this project have come from the hundreds of people who’ve got actively involved, running pop-​up shops, building their businesses, organising events, spreading the word. Most of these people live in walking distance of the market — and for its continued success, it will need to continue serving the whole range of people who live in this part of London.

Different people are best-​placed to see different parts of this situation. What Space Makers can see is how easily Brixton Village could end up back in the position it was in a year ago. A sharp increase in rents could quickly undo the hard work which went into filling the empty areas of the market, hurting both the market’s businesses and its customers.

The South London Press and the Evening Standard have drawn attention to the situation of traders in Brixton Village and the neighbouring arcade, Market Row, who have been presented with increases in rent and service charges. Increased rents are much like government cuts — sometimes they have exactly the opposite of the intended effect.

Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Comment

  1. Richard Pope
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    The premise of “there were empty shops and we filled them — this is a good thing” argument is too simplistic, and you really need to be asking a wider range of questions of your project.

    For example: “will you, in total and over a sustained period, help more business than you hinder in the wider Brixton Market?” That seems like a much better measure of success to me rather than focusing on a series of units in isolation.

    You are correct to say that there have been empty units there for some years, but apparently had as much todo with owners deliberately running the market down in anticipation of redevelopment and general uncertainty about the future of the market.

    This is the first time I can remember that there have even been for-​rent-​signs up, so it might be that these units would have just filled up more naturally without Spacemekers once the listing of the market had occurred and LAP had to start looking for tenants again.

    On Rachel’s comment — yes we need a mix of old and new shops, but Spacemakers/​LAP are also endangering some of the newer shops outside of Granville (see Rosies and Healthy Eaters for example, people who have put years of work into Brixton Market at risk of loosing their businesses though a chain of events that Spacemakers helped trigger).

    Some other questions that I would urge you to consider with some urgency:

    What kind of market are you creating and who should/​should have had a say in that? To date the choices have been the reserve of Spacemakers/​LAP with little input from traders, residents and the wider community. I live right in the heart of the market and feel alienated by the whole thing. Others feel the same.

    Have you strengthened or weakened the market as a whole? After the campaign to list the markets last year the traders were in a very strong bargaining position with both LAP and the council, I’m not sure that is the case any longer.

    What is the cultural impact of what you have done? The markets were listed because of their importance to British Afro-​Caribbean culture. I think it’s probably fair to characterise a lot of the Spacemakers projects as “white-​middle-​class-​foodie weekends & evening use” — that is great as part of a wider mix, but if it started to dominate at the expense of everything else (as it appears LAP want it to) then we loose the thing that was deemed most important in the first place. Would you really be happy to think you had helped trigger that?

    Why has Spacemekers/​LAP acted as though Brixton Market was a land barren of existing organisations and campaigns? That Friends of Brixton market feel they have to appeal to you publicly to speak out against the rent-​rises should really be ringing some alarm bells for you. Where is the input from ABC Brixton, FBM, Market Traders Federation etc in all of this?

    You failed to engage initially, which is understandable — sometimes you just need to get on with things to get stuff done — but that you and continue to work in isolation this late on in the project is odd. If you do this kind of thing again you really need to reach out further than twitter to stay credible.

    Your priorities are looking increasingly aligned more with LAP than with the wider community (please can you publish details of your relationship with LAP and how much they are paying you) something you can now only answer by coming out against the rent-​rises.