ATRiuM lecturers have come up with an alternative and creative solution to the increase in Cardiff’s empty shops. They plan to let graduate students broadcast, expose their fashion, photography or graphic designs from the unused spaces.
“The plan is to take three areas of Cardiff: the St. David’s shopping centre, one of the older Arcades, and a high street shopping area in Canton or Roath, which are equally impacted by empty shops and for a month, student entrepreneurs will be located there,” said Dr. Gill Allard, the initiator of the project.
The plans are based on a previous pilot study and a recently published review by Mary Portas. “Portas has suggested repurposing them for community use, for arts and cultural use,” Allard said.
Some students would like to take advantage of the project. Richard Queree, 24, BA radio, said: “I would really like to do something with radio in a shop. It would be really exciting to get people to listen to it and come in.”
Katie Maloney, 21, a third year media communications student said it was a really good idea especially for fashion and film students: “It can only be a positive thing to get their work out there and show their talents.”
Richard Holt,19, BA music technology, said: “I think it is an absolutely exceptional idea for the local community radio stations, especially if it’s in the heart of Cardiff where people walk by every day. People could come in and request a song, and then go to the next shop and be interviewed.”
Tom Wakeham, 33, MA multi-platform radio and working on Radio Exposure, responded: “It would be brilliant. All we need is a working internet connection and electricity.”
Portas’ Review: community based use of empty shops
The idea to use the empty shops is based on research and a pilot study.
Earlier last year, Prime Minister David Cameron and the Deputy Prime Minister asked retail expert Mary Portas to conduct an independent review into the state of UK’s high streets and town centres. This resulted in the Portas Review which states that innovative ideas are part of the solution to the increase in empty shops.
The pilot study, ‘The Great Big Empty Shop Experiment’ ran in July last year. Fashion and photography students turned an empty shop into an “interactive exhibition space”.
The Portas Review was done to reverse the impact of the recession on the retail and property market.
The review stated that the public enjoyed a boom in retail and property values, but that “it is over and the bust has exposed the underlying weaknesses in the economy, as well as problems of disconnection between property owners, retailers and local councils.”
Mary Portas recommends supporting imaginative community use of empty properties. The report suggests “Introducing a “Right to Try” to encourage community use even without community ownership, alongside my proposal for a new “Empty Shop Management Order” power.”
This means that people in the local community do not have to buy the shop, but do get the right to try it.
Many shops in Cardiff’s city centre were closed down and are now left empty. To reverse this trend the assembly’s enterprise committee wants a stronger national strategy from the Welsh government, reported the BBC last month. Professor Peter Robertson, Dean of the ATRiuM, said that collaboration between shop owners and the universities has benefits for both parties. The owners of the shops don’t have to pay council tax if it is used by a charity organisation such as the university. Also, the projects will draw people into the shopping area.
“The people will say, have you seen this distinct shop for designing new cloths? Or there’s a radio station over there….” Mr Robertson said.
Allard said that they are still looking for partners and ways to fund the project. But students will be informed through Glamlife. She added that they will take suggestions from students into account. A precondition is that the project has to be interactive with the audience and contribute to the community. The project should invite people to go into the shops.
Listen to an explanation of the project by Dr. Allard
Allard said it is challenging: “Students need to be aware that it is hard to open a shop and keep it up. The project is not to earn income, but to launch something that they can set up as a commercial venture.”
Allard said the project is aimed at sustainability: “We want to create a legacy that will have a future after the pilot. Not a pop-up, pop-down and disappear.”
Here are pictures of last year’s Great Big Empty Shop Experiment made by the University of Glamorgan: