Bringing in visitors: temporary use in Coventry

Coventry is a small city in the UK's Midlands, whose medieval streets and buildings were badly damaged by Luftwaffe bombing, leading to a post-war rebuild that saw a range of planning and architectural innovation. The city centre is a small area (about 20 minutes walk from end to end) neatly contained by a ring road. The centre is made up of a network of pedestrian precincts, civic spaces, small arcades and a covered market. An unusual legacy of the post-war development is that Coventry City Council owns about a third of the city centre shops.

The city has a rich and vibrant arts economy, and innovative companies such as Talking Birds have explored the city with site-specific works that blend performance, visual arts and digital elements. A number of arts organisations have also used unusual spaces, particularly empty shops, for temporary projects; the leader in this field is Coventry Artspace, a studio based in a former youth club which provides arts development services for the city council.

Theatre Absolute is a small company with a national reputation, particularly for new writing and the production of new plays. Inspired by store front theatre in the USA, the founders approached Coventry City Council and negotiated an 18-month lease on a former fish and chip restaurant in the covered City Arcade. This arcade had been identified in the council's Void Space Strategy as a key location, and had already housed a number of arts exhibitions and residencies alongside community use by groups like the Scouts.

Theatre Absolute's shop front theatre was the first in the UK, and brought visitors from across the country to the city. The venue was used as a space to write new work, rehearse and test those ideas, and stage premier performances.

It was so successful that Theatre Absolute have negotiated a three year lease; like The UpMarket in Worthing, temporary use has inspired a long-term use of the space.