There have been quite a few developments since the first three shops popped up in December last year and the fourth pop-up shop and associated event Forest Hill Fashion Week
in February. Among other things, the SEE3 community hub known as Jill has been replaced with an ice cream parlour.
AB: Welcome back to Digital Journal, Louise. You told us about how the project got underway and about your own involvement with it. A few more questions about you and your team. Who are they?
Louise Brooks: The SEE3 Core Team
who put the bid together have volunteered a lot of time to get the projects off of the ground. We also have an enormous number of volunteers helping on these projects. There are paid roles as well:
- My organisation The Shop Revolution
is responsible for delivering 10 pop-up shops and associated projects with the aim of reinvigorating high streets with a diverse retail offering and stimulating long-term demand for empty shops.
- Deborah Efemini has been responsible for introducing SEE3 Markets to trial a series of markets in SEE3's areas of Sydenham, Kirkdale and Forest Hill.
- We have a Town Team Manager Tony Buckley responsible for programme managing the various initiatives SEE3 is committed to delivering and leading on projects to improve signage and develop business workshops for traders amongst others.
- Hubs Coordinator Corinne Furness has been responsible for coordinating activities at the Jill community hub and developing a mobile model for Jack which will start popping up in high street spaces in Forest Hill in coming months.
- Artists in Residence Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta have been running a series of events in both Sydenham and Forest Hill designed to foster creative collaborations. The Nest events in Forest Hill and Salon events in Sydenham have been very well received so far and there are a number of creative projects that re being developed as a result.
- In addition to this we've obviously paid carpenters, electricians, plumbers, sign-makers and more although the vast majority of people have worked at special rates as this is a community project.
AB: You said you were invited to join the project, that sounds suspiciously like networking to me, which is the way a lot of businesses find customers and clients, ie word of mouth. Is this sort of thing useful at a local level?
LB: Yes you could think of it as networking. I was driven by a passion to regenerate our high streets and I think you tend to move in the same space as people who want to achieve the same thing.
AB: What sort of shops do you hope to bring to Sydenham and Forest Hill in particular? In the former there are plenty of food shops, Internet caffs, and not a few hair stylists and manicurists, and such. What is missing?
LB: My background is in marketing so I recognise how important it is to match the proposition to the demographic. Although the Forest Hill offering in shops has evolved very quickly recently, I don't think that Sydenham offers enough that meets the needs of the community, and Kirkdale has its own challenges. We have to look at each high street individually to determine what offerings will work in each, and there is going to be an element of testing the market which is something that the pop-up shops, markets and selling goods through the community hubs will allow.
Also in the long term we have to be realistic about who can survive on the high street. You might be looking at £25,000 in rent and rates before you've even sold a thing, and with the introduction of on-line shopping and retail parks, our high streets need to evolve. We need to look at different models to those that have worked in the past. For example, layering offerings to meet different needs of the community at different times. This isn't simply about trying to provide something for everyone - that's never going to work; you still need to have your target market in mind. But its about meeting the multiple needs of your target market. So, perhaps a garden centre is also a café and gift shop such as Alexandra Nurseries
in Penge, or a gallery is also a café and restaurant and events venue such as Canvas and Cream
in Forest Hill.
Another model to consider is a collaborative model where several complementary businesses share a space, therefore sharing the cost and risk involved.
AB: Sydenham has good communications now with both London and Croydon; are you hoping to bring people from outside the area?
LB: Absolutely. We have 600,000 commuters each year to the area and 10 million drivers. Our aim is that Sydenham, Forest Hill and Kirkdale become destinations and not somewhere to pass through, so we need to give them a reason to stop. We also have the Horniman Museum & Gardenson our doorstep bringing 700,000 visitors a year to the area. We want to give them a reason to come to our high streets or explore the area during their visit.
AB: Now a really difficult question, in some respects, shouldn't we embrace the death of the high street? You won't find a blacksmith around here, but a hundred years ago or so, it was a different matter.
LB: Of course not! You need only to look at December's launch to see how much people enjoy coming to the high street. When there is a big event they come out in their droves, and the success of businesses like Canvas and Cream
make you realise that the community is crying out for interesting and diverse offerings. The level of excitement at the introduction of a butchers to Forest Hill has been fantastic. There were queues down the street...
AB: Albums and other hard copy music have more or less disappeared because now everybody downloads and a lot of people get all their music free, and unless you are a business person you don't have to buy stamps or newspapers anymore.
And let's not talk about on-line shopping. What can be left out of the high street now, and what new if anything can be brought to it?
LB: There is a place for on-line shopping and retail parks and high streets, but to survive high streets need to evolve. That means exploring in depth how to meet the needs of of your community in your high street. We'll be carrying out a number of research and engagement studies locally to give us the best opportunity of getting it right.
AB: If this project is successful, what do you and its sponsors hope to do with it, spread it to the rest of the UK, the rest of the world?
LB: We are focussed on our local high streets for the time being. That's not to say that this project won't spawn independent, sustainable businesses that can take their proposition elsewhere. We've now successfully launched pop-up shops, a community hub and local markets after all...
AB: Regarding these pop-up shops, although there is a continuity to them as a concept, do people not find the constant change confusing? You also mention the forthcoming Sydenham Arts Festival in one of your releases, how are you hoping to dovetail with that?
LB: The response to the pop-up shops has been overwhelmingly positive and most people seem to get what we're doing, and even if they don't they soon do after chatting to any of our tenants. And confusion doesn't stop them using the shops; it only invites questions which gives us a further opportunity to engage with them
In terms of working with the Sydenham Arts Festival we are collaborating with them on a series of pop-up arts experiences in high street locations called Retail Therapy. We are also introducing the first Sydenham Street Art Festival as part of this year's Sydenham Arts Festival in collaboration with Global Street Art. This forms part of our wider Sydenham focussed project Pop Goes Sydenham which aims to stimulate retail growth with four pop-up shops (two of which will open during the Sydenham Arts Festival), a series of night-time events in response to feedback we've received as to the lack of a night time economy, and we aim to build a visible arts identity with the street arts.
AB: One more question: Cherry & Ice looks more of a permanent fixture than a pop-up shop. There used to be an ice cream parlour in Sydenham years ago. That is long gone. Do you think this one can succeed?
LB: Cherry & Ice
is a permanent fixture. They were able to view the shop when it was Jill, the SEE3 community hub and put in an offer as a result as I understand it. Businesses that are thriving on the high street are coffee shops and cafés that act as hubs. With an under-served family demographic in Sydenham and few quality cafés I can only see that this business will go from strength to strength.