A year ago, Revolutionary Arts published Pop Up People, a report into the pop up movement and the people behind it. The report was based on visits to towns and cities across England, and a series of workshops, and a trip to Rotterdam. It was made possible with the help of some crowd funding and an Arts Council England grant.
The report, though was just the summary of a couple of months of activity. Underneath it were reading lists, a soundtrack, Twitter debates, a short film and much more.
But in that summary, I identified some key trends, showcased the best work by people across the UK and the Netherlands, and suggested simple, practical help that the government could give to support a growing movement.
The government already protects things we treasure from the full fury of the market. Listing buildings looks after our most precious architecture. National parks maintain the balance in a delicate countryside. Railways, banks, hospitals, schools… they’re all still there because of government support. So why not add the town centre to the list of things we love, and which need our help? And why not do that by supporting the people who want to do it?
So – one year on – what’s happened? Well, I have travelled across the country again, visiting over 30 towns and cities in 2012 and talking about Pop Up People. And off the back of it, I’ve written Pop Up Business For Dummies – a practical guide to help even more people make their pop up ideas into something real.
In Pop Up People I asked for government support around some key themes. Here are some of the ideas from Pop Up People and the ways that government and others have made them happen:
- Allow young entrepreneurs to test ideas in council or government property with rent-free periods. In May 2012, three months after Pop Up People was published, the government launched a scheme to make property available.
- Allow new businesses a start-up period free of business rates. Until 31 March 2014 small units get 100% relief (doubled from the usual rate of 50%).
- Encourage staff from larger shops and supermarkets to volunteer to support these projects by establishing national volunteering programmes. Retail Trust are a national charity, working for people who are employed in retail. With vInspired and Revolutionary Arts, they’ve launched Retail Ready People – and that programme will encourage staff from the retailers that Retail Trust work with to help young people develop new ideas.
- Allow use of empty spaces, with three months freedom before planning requires a change-of-use application. The government are considering allowing up to two years temporary use,, where the use is low impact.
I had a number of suggestions around the idea Mary Portas put forward, of creating Town Teams.
- Town teams should include young people.
- Make Town Teams hyperlocal, focused on a small neighbourhood, a community of a few streets or a district shopping centre.
- Town Teams should be agile to respond to opportunity more quickly than existing organisations. Town teams should act, not meet.
- Town teams should own and manage some shops to allow space for pop up people.
Those suggestions were based on meeting the kind of people who are already changing the places they live for the better. Unfortunately, neither Mary nor the government listened – and the grants given to Town Teams have all gone to the bank accounts of local councils. It’s limited the impact of many of the Town Teams, by taking away the agile, DIY ethos we found in Pop Up People and replacing it with sluggish bureaucracy. Thankfully – some towns have broken the shackles and are doing great stuff – and in many places, Pop Up People are doing it for themselves without Portas Pilot backing.
There was one final suggestion though. I called for a national, government-backed award scheme for pop up people – well, last year Simon Danczuk MP offered his support for that. In 2013, I’m going to hold him to it and the Pop Up Awards are going to happen.
Dan Thompson is the author of both Pop Up People and Pop Up Business For Dummies. He’s an experienced pop up expert – who’s been helping to find new uses for old buildings since the age of 13, and has opened dozens of pop ups across the UK.
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