Plymouth’s empty shops will become art and exhibition spaces in a bid to attract business

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Empty shops in Plymouth town center are to be turned into exhibition spaces, art installations and homes for ‘experimental’ start-ups under a new scheme.

Plymouth Culture, in partnership with Vacancy Atlas, is leading the Utilization Project in the meantime and guiding creative organizations through the process of redeveloping disused stores for cultural transformation.

The idea is to bring empty buildings and urban areas to life with “vibrant exhibits, interactive experiences and inspiring installations” that celebrate the city and its heritage.

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Starting this spring, the empty spaces of the city center are reborn into powerful light installations, welcoming social spaces, experimental start-ups and inspiring learning centers, according to the project leaders.

One of the first units to be redesigned is 107 Cornwall Street, which will become a pop-up store run by Vacancy Atlas, specialists in unlocking the potential of empty spaces for use by local businesses, new start-ups, organizations community and cultural.

The unit will be an information hub for the Utilization Project as it develops through 2022, with an ongoing program of pop-up initiatives and an online information platform.

The program aims to use empty spaces until they are commercially occupied and will provide a platform for cultural initiatives from the city’s creative community and bring innovative projects to the city centre.

Visitors to the city center can expect to see:

● Light installations created by the renowned Still/Moving in collaboration with community groups, which created the world-acclaimed sculpture No New Worlds on Mount Batten Pier in 2020.

● Inspirational artwork from the Plymouth skating community.

● A giant chalk map of Plymouth that people can get involved in ‘renaming’.

● A Climate Hub led by polar explorer and environmental educator Antony Jinman.

● A civic skating center celebrating Plymouth’s skate culture.

● Artist retail space and studio.

● Projects from the IGNITE creativity festival organized by the University of Plymouth and the Plymouth College of Art.

● A new zero-emission cargo bike initiative led by BikeSpace of Plymouth in partnership with sustainable delivery company Zedify.

The program will begin with a series of events and workshops involving citizens and creative groups to shape what the projects will look like with opportunities to participate and learn new design skills.

The first projects were chosen following an open call to Plymouth’s creative community and will take place in unused space through partnerships with landlords and property managers.

Selected projects were also able to develop their projects through a program supported by organizations such as business start-up consultancy Outset Plymouth.

The Meanwhile Use scheme, which launched in autumn 2021, is run by Plymouth Culture, Plymouth City Council and the Plymouth City Center Society.

It is funded by Historic England (Heritage Action Zone Culture Programme), Interreg (C-Care), Plymouth City Council and the Plymouth City Center Company.

The launch of the program comes after the adoption of the Conservation Area Assessment and Management Plan (CAAMP) in March 2022, which highlighted the opportunity for ‘use pending’ to play a valuable role in the revival of the main street.

The plan sets out what makes Plymouth town center special, its specific character and setting and what can be done to manage change and inform decision-making in the future.

A 2021 survey by tech firm Property Inspect found the UK town of Ocean City had the fourth highest number of empty shops of the 50 cities and towns surveyed, with 9.67 empty properties per 100,000 people.

And the Cities Outlook 2022 report – the Center for Cities’ annual economic assessment of the UK’s largest urban areas – said Plymouth was the worst in the region for an increase in empty city center shops during the pandemic and the sixth higher at the national level.

But the Plymouth City Center Company pointed out that in fact more businesses opened than closed during this period and said it was attracting a “new wave of entrepreneurs of all nationalities”.



Business Live’s South West business reporter is William Telford. William has over a decade of experience reporting on the business scene in Plymouth and the South West. It is based in Plymouth but covers the whole region.

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Hannah Harris, chief executive of Plymouth Culture, the organization dedicated to creating opportunities for the city’s creative and cultural sector, said: “There is a need to diversify and not rely on retail in our city center, supported by multiple reports and studies. .

“In the meantime, Use gives us the opportunity to use empty stores to give our cultural community a platform to display their talents and spark daily cultural encounters for everyone who comes downtown. The response to our call for proposals was inspiring with an extraordinary range of creativity. We are extremely happy to see the results and the project taking shape starting this spring and throughout the year. We see this as a first phase and will be inviting further submissions when other properties have been identified.

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