The working group for Empty Shops have three simple aims:
•To improve the appearance of empty premises in the town centre
•To encourage temporary use of empty shops for pop up shops and community workshops
•To help match available premises with those looking to start up business.
• Empty shops strategy: This was drawn up to improve the appearance of empty shops by using the windows for displays of art, from pop up shops to business start ups. A matching service is also available for businesses and landlords. These initiatives could run in parallel depending on the landlord or agent’s willingness to engage. ESWG_Strategy
• Landlord list: Has been drawn up for shops in the town centre, together with a list of agents for empty shops as and when they become empty. This is an essential starting point for the strategy and was highlighted in the Portas Report.
• Rent free periods: An early initiative involved introducing business start ups seeking premises to landlords who were offering a year rent free. This floundered because the landlords wanted a tie in beyond the rent free year and the start ups were unable to take that risk. Since then most of the premises concerned have been occupied but others have become vacant. The situation is fluid but some premises remain stubbornly difficult to let.
• Landlord Engagement event: A well-attended and positive event was held in February bringing together Liskeard landlords, agents and members of the working group. This started a dialogue about the benefits of a flexible approach to ‘meanwhile use’ in the period between one tenant leaving and another long term tenant taking over. It included a presentation from local landlord and Town Team Treasurer Gary Randall and plenty of constructive discussion. The landlords have asked for another event later in the year.
• Pop-up shop workshop: The Town Team was delighted to host a workshop on pop-up shops delivered by Dan Thompson in April. Dan is a recognised expert on the reuse of empty shops, and on how to create a pop-up shop, and runs the Empty Shops Network. It was a lively and inspirational event, attended by people from Penzance to Tiverton and people went away buzzing with ideas and having made new contacts. It was particularly good to be able to start to share learning with people from other towns.
• Lights Up Competition: An empty shop window on Fore Street was first used to display large images from the ‘Lights Up’ photographic competition and subsequently for two look@liskeard exhibitions to display the work of local artists. The first of these has led to further collaboration between the artists. The displays make an otherwise drab empty shop window attractive, drawing attention and comment. It is a good way of improving the appearance of a building while the premises are being marketed. More displays are planned.
• RIO: With help from the Town Team’s empty shops group, RIO was able to find an empty shop to rent and use as its base in the centre of town. The current location gives great exposure to the project – for example it is used for workshops and parents of teenagers drop in and volunteer them.
• Window art project: To be continued in as many empty shop windows as possible. Some landlords and agents still need to be persuaded that this low risk idea is advantageous to them so a further ‘landlord engagement’ event would be useful.
• Start Ups: The Town Team will continue to seek a way of enabling start ups to use otherwise empty shops on a short term basis that could become long term if successful. In ideal circumstances this would be led by a charitable organisation that could continue the project into the future.
• New possibilities: The Town team’s influencing role in relation to empty shops is mainly around showing all parties new possibilities. The Town Team can act as a matching service for landlords and those seeking shop space. It became clear that agents were as critical as landlords if there was to be any flexibility in allowing pop ups or short term leases for start ups. Agents tend to be conservative in their advice to landlords and need to be persuaded of the usefulness and acceptable risk of new possibilities.