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Empty shops in Plymouth city centre transformed by creatives and artists

Creative businesses, artists and organisations are transforming empty spaces in Plymouth into vibrant new ventures as part of a cultural reimagining of the city centre.

A series of retail units that are currently unoccupied have been handed over to creatives as part of the Meanwhile Use scheme brought to the city by Plymouth Culture.

The scheme aims to work with businesses, landlords and owners to revitalise places not in commercial use, helping showcase creativity and culture while attracting more people to the city centre.

The spaces include three units donated by Drake Circus, which are now being used by creative organisations. These include:

  • Sprite Arts – a collective of five womxn artists based at 15-19 Old Town Street until December who aim to make arts events, workshops and exhibitions, establish artist residency programmes and mentoring opportunities. Their opening exhibition Immersion featured the wonderful creativity of 20 regular sea swimmers at Firestone Bay.
  • Civic Space brings art and creativity together with the local skating community, celebrating Plymouth’s skating heritage with projects such as the mural at the Civic Centre and PRIMEdesign.  PRIMEdesign has been made by Prime Skate Park with the support of creative community organisation Take A Part and contemporary art gallery KARST and a hub for their work will be based in Royal Parade until the autumn.
  • Devonport-based Community Interest Company Bikespace is partnering with cargo bike courier service Zedify in Old Town Street, a hub for consolidating deliveries for businesses. They offer a zero emissions, same and next day delivery service for businesses.

Greg Lumley, centre director at Drake Circus, said: “We’re always looking for opportunities to support our local community and we’re delighted to be involved in a city-wide initiative. Not only is it great to be able to offer space to these passionate organisations, but their commitment to creativity and sustainability is also very inspiring and important to us.”

Gil Woolley, Co-Founder and Operations of Zedify Plymouth said: “We are thrilled to be bringing an ethical, sustainable and cost efficient parcel delivery service to Plymouth thanks to the Meanwhile Use scheme and Drake Circus. Our vision is to reduce the road traffic around the city, making it a safer and cleaner environment for all.”

The Meanwhile Use scheme is spearheaded by Plymouth Culture, Plymouth City Council, Plymouth City Centre Company and Vacancy Atlas – specialists in unlocking the potential of empty spaces.

Vacancy Atlas are based at their own Meanwhile Use space at 107 Cornwall Street, which will also be used to showcase ‘pop-ups’ through the summer. So far, they have included:

  • Owen Makes, who filled the space with his beautiful handmade ceramics.
  • Memori Prints by Vince Handford, occupying the space in August with his limited edition screen printed posters.

Elsewhere, the Hidden Art Gallery by artist and curator Billy Finch has appeared for a few weeks of August in Cornwall Street, showcasing the work of three Plymouth artists – Isis, Tom Bird and Cormack Reid. Billy’s aim is to show off the work of up-and-coming artists and those who want to be artists.

Billy said: “I started the gallery to showcase local professional artists and people who want to make a living out of being an artist to the people of Plymouth. Last year I heard about the Meanwhile Use scheme through Plymouth Culture, aimed at filling empty spaces in Plymouth and I thought that a gallery space would be an excellent way to fill an empty shop.

“I managed to get in and be selected and I feel really lucky that it’s happened.”

Earlier this summer Plymouth Community Climate Centre also opened in New George Street, a social enterprise dedicated to engaging, educating and empowering communities to respond to the climate crisis.

The renowned artistic collective Still/Moving have also been creating light installations to be displayed in the city centre with community groups.

Hannah Harris, CEO of Plymouth Culture, said: “The Meanwhile Use project is genuinely changing the experience of visiting the city centre in a positive way – sparking everyday creative encounters that everyone can access.

“We were overwhelmed by the interest in the scheme from the creative and cultural community and it’s inspiring to see them take advantage of the empty spaces in increasingly innovative ways.

“A huge thank you to all the partners in the city who have made this possible, including the owners and landlords such as Drake Circus.”

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

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