The Solution

British creatives have been borrowing, sharing and adapting empty spaces, often on a short-term basis, for a long time; when the Church of England broke away from the Pope in the 16th century, some of the redundant buildings apparently became theatres or homes for the radical new technology, the printing press. More recently, the 1960s saw a wave of theatre and art in unlikely places, the punks of the 1970s colonised any space they could find, and artists have been converting empty buildings into studios and galleries since the 1980s.

Since 2000, Revolutionary Arts have been using empty shops and borrowing other spaces such as local churches to exhibit work by artists, typically recent graduates, early career artists or outsider artists. In 2009, Revolutionary Arts decided to share their knowledge and experience by creating a national Empty Shops Network. The basis of the network is a belief in 'Open Source' - the source code for projects is shared freely through online resources, meaning that many can access the skills they need, and this approach has contributed to making the use of empty shops a widespread and sustainable practice.

It's an approach that has also allowed a flexibility labelled 'Agile' after the Agile Software movement. Taking an agile approach allows people to test ideas rather than just plan, respond to change and opportunity and build partnerships as needed.

The Open Source and Agile approaches have also led to small, informal clusters of activity in geographical areas, where projects can both inspire and learn from each other.

This reflects the way that, since the UK government adopted the idea, use of empty shops has become commonplace across the UK; both for artists as trailblazers, but also more commercially as businesses have created pop-up shops. These range from small, local enterprises to major international fashion brands creating headline-grabbing concept stores.

In 2010, Converse created a whole suite of pop-up offices and workspaces in the popular Seven Dials area of London, just to promote their next season to buyers and industry insiders. In December 2011, ebay launched a five-day pop-up store on London's Dean Street, showcasing products that visitors could buy via their mobile phones and a QR code. The project was devised by marketing company Shine.