'Meanwhile Spaces' (temporary facilities) work for new communities

New communities can take many years to complete. Residents can find themselves surrounded by semi-dereliction and building sites during their first few years of settlement. Intermediate or ‘meanwhile' use of land and buildings can provide much-needed space for community activities and interaction.

There is growing interest in the idea of ‘meanwhile uses' and spaces, from grow-bag allotments in empty plots of land to empty buildings temporarily housing social enterprisesGlossary: Social enterprises are profit-making businesses set up to tackle a social or environmental need, community projects or drop-in clinics for local public services.

Milton Keynes has successfully developed a model for providing a temporary community house in new developments, along with £10,000 in funding for supporting community activities (link to social amenities section).

Space Makers Agency's work in Brixton is a good example of how ‘meanwhile spaces' can catalyse local action. Space Makers Agency worked with Lambeth Council in October 2009 and landlords London and Associated Properties to bring a number of empty properties into temporary and potentially longer term use on a three month rent free basis.

Space Makers Agency

The Space Makers Agency find creative ways for communities to use spaces and rethink their social function. So far they have worked with a community group in Brixton to revive the Brixton Market.

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Reclaiming the commons in Todmorden

In Todmorden, West Yorkshire, use of vacant plots by the community has transformed the town, where the local economy is recovering from the collapse of the textile industry, leading to a multitude of positive outcomes for the local area.

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Milton Keynes: community houses

The Council's Leisure and Recreation SPG adopted in January 2005 sets out the level of contributions sought from new developments towards new facilities, including meeting places.

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Todmorden, West Yorkshire, is one of many places from inner-city to rural communities that are making use of vacant plots or derelict pieces of land to improve local quality of life and create opportunities for people to get involved locally.


The Olympic Legacy Company is also developing a similar approach as described in this article, A Sporting Chance for London: "...the Olympic Legacy Company has started proposing temporary uses for the empty sites such as market gardens, allotments and... arts festivals. Paul Finch, the chairman of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, champions the idea of temporary tree nurseries-a source of employment and an environmental benefit." More innovatively he suggests allowing people to self build on the site, rather than waiting for developers, which would allow neighbourhood characters to develop spontaneously. This would be done by encouraging developers to work in the same entrepreneurial way as individuals and small businesses, but within a framework.