Brixton Village Market’s New Lease of Life

Brixton Village was slowly becoming an empty, disintegrated part of Brixton Market until 20 unused units were given to local businesses and artists in the UK’s largest empty shop project.

One year on from the project’s initiation every unit in the market is now occupied for the first time since 1979 and the Space Makers Agency’s overhaul is responsible for this.

Brixton Market’s New Lease of Life

The landlords, London Associated Properties (LAP), approached Lambeth council as they hoped to do something creative with their empty shops and attract new tenants. The council introduced them to Space Makers, an agency founded by Dougald Hine, which specialises in finding ways to utilise empty spaces. Hine persuaded LAP to handover 20 empty units for a three month rent-free trial period and advertised for participants.

Brixton Village is just off Atlantic Road

He said: “We negotiated with the owners and told them that we thought if they let us give people three free months rent in the space they’d start to have people who’d actually be interested in renting the spaces because the market would have new visitors coming down there and would feel alive again and so that was kind of how we started things.

“When we got involved with the market and there were 20 shops sitting empty in there and speaking to the market manager and the two different owners there had never been less than 15 shops left open since the year 2000.”

Space Makers Plan

Space Makers aim was to mix temporary projects that would bring energy and attract people back to the market with businesses they believed would have longevity. After an open evening 98 people applied for space and 30 were chosen. The first of the new shops opened in December 17, 2009.

Hine said: “We were looking deliberately for temporary pop-up projects which can do something really exciting with the space for three months and [we] were looking for new local businesses or organisations that have a plan for how they could potentially make a shop viable beyond that three month period…of the 20 shops seven of them are still today businesses or organisations that came in through that original competition and are now long term paying tenants like anyone else in the market.”

One of the first units to open was Brixton Village Gallery, which was run by the artists who rent the Artist’s Studios Company studios above Brixton Village. One of these artists is Frances Copeman, 25, who got the chance to have her first exhibition at the gallery.

Copeman said: “Space Makers reinvent space and by them re-creating that empty space into a gallery for up and coming artists from the market studios meant I had the opportunity to have my first exhibition. It was also a good way to meet people.”

Space Makers also created shorter-term pop-ups after the initial three months when there were spaces that were empty for a few weeks. Hine said: “We persuaded the owners to let people come in and do things for two weeks, for three weeks but once there was a sense that the market was reviving, what happened was there [were] lots of other new local businesses that wanted to come into the spaces so by summer last year it had got to the stage where pretty much all the shops were let, which is the first time since 1979 the market [has] actually been full.”

The Outcome of the Space Makers’ Project in Brixton Market

One of the shops that has been in the market since the beginning of the project and is still doing well is Leftovers, a French vintage clothing boutique owned by Margot Waggoner, 25. Although Waggoner had trained with Alexander McQueen and Brigitte Campagne this was the first time she’d had the opportunity to open her own shop.

Brixton Village

Leftovers Boutique Brixton Village Market

Picking up on the atmosphere in the market now and the community spirit Waggoner said: “Everyone helps each other and we exchange things. I stitched the tablecloths for one of the restaurants and got a free meal and the fishmonger asked me to sew the hem of his trousers and gave me some squid.”

The mixture of the original butchers, fishmongers and fruit and vegetable sellers with the new boutiques, galleries, restaurants and cafes makes Brixton Village Market now a place with much to offer and something for everyone.

Hine said: “I think [Brixton Village] is an amazing combination of the traders that have been there for decades on the one hand and the new cultural businesses and cafes and arts organisations.

“I think that embodies something that we’ve talked about a lot as an organisation, which is that a market place isn’t just a place where you come to buy and sell things it’s also a place where you come to hear stories, see performances, meet people and hang out and that idea of the market as a sociable space that’s embedded in the community that’s what Brixton Village embodies for me now.”

Reflecting on the outcome of Space Makers project

Hine said: “The biggest change that we’ve been able to make is to take a space where literally no-one wanted to shop or could make a shop work and make it somewhere where a whole new collection of local businesses and arts organizations are able to have enough visitors to make it a viable space for them.”

The Future of Brixton Market

Discussing the future of Brixton Village Market Hine said: “The long term key to its success will be if the owners understand that it’s the mixture of the old and the new of the meat and veg stalls alongside cafes and boutique shops is what makes it special and that’s why people are excited about it and want to come down here.

“Where as two years ago the owners wanted to kick out everybody and redevelop the site, there is a sense now that there is a long-term future for the site as the market and the mixture of things, which it is, rather than that drastic redevelopment. So from that point of view it’s a better place for everyone [who is] trading there than it was when it was under the kind of threat that it was under before.”

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