Today is the last day of Cardiff’s Great Big Empty Shop Experiment, ‘created by the Centre for Policy & Enterprise in Creative Industries [University of Glamorgan] to investigate how the increasing number of empty shops in our City Centres could be put to better use by start-up creative enterprises.’
I went to visit the shop in Cardiff city centre just before it opened to see what was what, which resulted in the very rough and ready slideshow above. The temporary ‘interactive exhibition space’ hosted a range of displays, events and activities such as a mini literature festival and a corner of the old Index catalogue shop was a designated ‘community newsroom’ area. This was one of the preferred options of Gill Allard’s ‘quick and dirty’ online survey (below) to try and ascertain what people might like to see fill the increasing number of empty shops on our high streets.
This got the talk about local team thinking about the idea of a physical hyperlocal newsroom independent publishers could operate from. What would it do? How would it work? What were the obvious benefits of having a physical space and local presence as well as an online one?
Mike was very enthusiastic about the idea of an open, welcoming coffee-shop style space in a central, visible location where local people could drop by, share their news and find out what was new in the area. I thought it could also make a good space for scheduled and impromptu social media surgeries, to roll out independent publishers’ skills wider into the community. Obviously, the physical presence and space for face-to-face conversation would help build and strengthen the publishers’ local relationships and networks.
William pointed out a physical space is particularly necessary where the content itself is physical and can’t be emailed or linked to, remembering a long queue of parents with babies in a shopping centre looking to have their little darlings professionally photographed to enter them into a beautiful baby competition. A newsroom could also work well for heritage and history projects around physical materials – having a scanner for old photographs and cuttings, some simple recording equipment and lots of time and space to capture the stories of those submitting them means the space could be at the heart of building a rich community archive.
William also felt a community newsroom could be part of a professional newsroom, such as a spare office or few desks in a local newspaper office. This could be one step forward from the Birmingham Mail Your Communities arrangement, where both the newspaper and hyperlocal publishers benefit – the newspaper gets wind of the local stories from those on the ground and the publishers get credit where it’s due, access to some of the paper’s archives and resources and an increased profile. A presence within a more prominent local newspaper’s premises might help a hyperlocal publisher forge new relationships locally and gain new skills from those they are working alongside (and vice versa!).
However Mike and Sarah felt there may be quite a way to go before this could be achieved, saying the newspaper might be inclined to try and impose their processes and protocols on the hyperlocal’s practice and the culture of competition over stories rather than sharing of them may still be too strong for a collaborative working environment between the two camps.
And that’s as far as we got, at which point we thought it might be a good idea to open up the discussion and ask hyperlocal publishers: What do you think? What would you do with a physical space if you had one to use? How might it help? How might it hinder? Please let us know in the comments area.
Of course the obvious answer to the last question is ‘overheads’ but there are an increasing amount of low-cost ways voluntary community groups can use empty shops and buildings, which are becoming a depressingly common site in the current economic climate. A couple of great resources are:
- 3space, who gave the University of Glamorgan use of the Cardiff shop. ‘3Space have a unique offering: offering organisations that benefit the community access to empty properties on a non commercial basis (free of charge in most cases).’
- The Place Station, which ‘introduces owners of land and buildings across the UK to social and community entrepreneurs with ideas for transforming their local area.’
- As reported in Third Force News ‘John Lewis Glasgow is trialling a new community initiative that will provide a dedicated community room for use by charities and community organisations.’ Fingers crossed that if this trial works well, it might be rolled out to other John Lewis UK stores.
- The Meanwhile Project, which ‘is based on the belief that empty properties spoil town centres…As a programme of work, the Meanwhile Project has been providing practical and financial support for a wide range of meanwhile approaches in towns throughout the country, as well as technical advice, manuals and common tools to help anyone who wants to do something positive in the meanwhile.’ Join the Meanwhile Ning Forum to join in the discussion and receive regular updates.