Artists and creatives will bring unused spaces to life across Plymouth in a cultural transformation of empty shops, buildings and urban areas.

The innovative project will start by focusing on the city centre, revitalising units not in commercial use, but will spread to high street areas around Plymouth.

The scheme – known as ‘meanwhile use’ – aims to make use of empty spaces until they are commercially occupied and will give a platform to cultural initiatives by the city’s creative community and bring more exciting artist projects to the city centre.

It could mean an exhibition popping up in an empty shop unit in the city centre or an interactive experience appearing on an unused area of a high street.

It is being spearheaded by Plymouth Culture, Plymouth City Council, Plymouth City Centre Company and Vacancy Atlas – specialists in unlocking the potential of empty spaces.

The project helps landlords and owners make use of their spaces by putting them into use, driving footfall and supporting the costs of rates. For the creative community it’s a space where the lease and insurance are taken care of while providing a base to cultural opportunities that simply wouldn’t otherwise exist. 

More than £150,000 has been secured in funding for pop-up initiatives, as well as helping fund costs such as rates, utilities and shop fit outs.

Plymouth City Council has generously supported access to Unit 107 on Cornwall Street to act as a headquarters for the project.

This unit will be managed by Vacancy Atlas who will curate a rolling programme of ‘meanwhile use’ and pop-up initiatives. Some are already in development through the Council’s Your Space scheme.

It is hoped that this will be the first of many spaces to help support artists and creatives, and the partnership has already launched a call for proposals from creative and cultural organisations or individuals who would like to access empty shops to test an idea on the high street.

The ‘meanwhile use’ programme is funded through Historic England (Heritage Action Zone Culture Programme), Interreg (C-Care) and Plymouth City Council and City Centre Company.

Hannah Harris, CEO of Plymouth Culture, said: “We are incredibly excited to launch the ‘meanwhile use’ programme and to have this early support from Plymouth City Council to get the initiative off the ground.

“We know from other examples around the country how valuable cultural interventions on the high street can be when it comes to breathing life back into a city.

“The ‘meanwhile use’ initiative is one part of a much wider regeneration programme across the city centre to refurbish buildings, host events and active space with cultural projects.”

The programme’s launch comes after the circulation of the Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan (CAAMP) for public consultation, which has highlighted the opportunity for ‘meanwhile use’ to play a valuable role in revising the high street.

The plan sets out what makes Plymouth city centre special, its specific character and setting and, crucially, what can be done to manage change and inform decision-making in the future.