In October 2009, following an introduction from Lambeth council, we began working with London & Associated Properties plc — the owners of Brixton Village indoor market.
Also known as Granville Arcade, this 1930s indoor market had an important place in the history of Brixton, but had fallen on hard times. Twenty shops stood empty — and the market manager told us that in the ten years he’d been there, under two different owners, there had never been fewer than fifteen units vacant. Our task was to turn this around.
We put out an open call for ideas, offering shops for up to three months rent free to temporary creative and community projects, or new local business start-ups with an ambition to become long-term tenants. The response was huge.
On 17th December 2009, the first wave of these new businesses and projects celebrated their launch. Over the months that followed, the previously run down side of the market became home to a rolling programme of pop-ups, new shops and cafes.
It wasn’t easy. In the early months, driving up footfall was a huge challenge, and we approached this by creating a weekly events programme, opening the market as a platform for local talent. (Read project director Julia Shalet’s account of the role played by young people in the transformation of the market.)
The hard work from the new businesses, established traders, artists, performers and volunteers paid off, creating a special atmosphere which fused the distinctiveness of Brixton with a new generation of DIY energy. Soon the project was being reported by the national and international media — as well as bloggers, telling personal stories of their visits and what the project meant to them:
“Brixton Village is sprouting. The once derelict and dodgy end of Brixton is wriggling out of its caterpillar state… and the effect is extraordinary.” Time Out London
“I read about [the project] with trepidation. What relevance or benefit do pop up stalls with cupcakes and crochet have to Brixton or its residents? Then I went down there and got it a bit more. It is good, it is wholesome, it is relevant. Each stall was not taking anything away from the area but was attempting to fill what really was a bunch of slack space (not push out existing occupiers).” Tom Eats, Jen Cooks
“It’s the largest example yet of a growing nationwide trend [for the creative reuse of empty space].” The Times
“It’s a very special atmosphere, wandering amidst the lanes of the market which are bursting with energy, atmosphere and a true sense of community.” Treehugger
“The key to this project’s success is that all the shops here are bespoke to the local community.” BBC1’s Inside Out
Space Makers moved on from Brixton Village at the end of October 2010, twelve months after the project had begun. By the time we left, all twenty of the original empty shops had been let to long-term tenants — new independent local businesses, many of which had come through the original competition. The programme of cultural and social activities which we had initiated had been taken on and extended by The Brick Box, a new community arts hub and cafe at the heart of the market.
For information about ongoing events and opportunities to get involved with the future of Brixton Village, please visit the Brixton Village website.
This project was funded by the market’s owners, London & Associated Properties plc. It was also made possible by the good will of the London Borough of Lambeth and the hard work of the hundreds of people who got involved.
Photograph © Andy Broomfield