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.