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But anything can go in front of a vacant unit.” Positioning RMUs in front of stores is preferable because it gives

retailers the opportunity to be on the mall itself. Power cables can run from inside the shop, and valuable promotional space in central atriums can be reserved for other activity. And if there’s no RMU in front of an empty unit, managers can

always be creative with it. “Princes Mall in Edinburgh had a store they wanted to promote elsewhere in the centre, so they wrapped an empty unit with promotional wrapping. All of a sudden, it became attractive,” says Keiller, who has plenty of other suggestions for filling empty shops with money-making activity. “Our two target areas are brands, such as a car launch, or local car

dealerships,” he says. “Temporary showrooms are very visual and have their own footfall – people who are interested in buying a car will go and have a look.” Putting a car inside a shopping centre, just like adding a unique pop-up store, provides that all important point of difference that drives shoppers back time and again.

for themselves. The talks were especially well attended.” And the figures speak for themselves. After aiming for 1,000

visitors in six weeks, Our Place, Your Place: Taunton attracted a total of 3,000 people, with 800 in the first week alone. The project clearly struck a chord with residents, and interaction with people on a local level really brought Taunton High Street to life. Publicity in local press and radio helped drum up interest, though word of mouth was primarily responsible. “We would have attracted more people if we’d stayed opened

longer. The only problem we had was that some people didn’t find out about the shop until it was about to close,” says Horrell. So are similar projects in the pipeline for the future? “It was such a

low cost scheme, and many of the staff were volunteers. But it caused a real buzz and now we want to keep the momentum going. We’re looking at the things people have shown an interest in to make sure it’s all built into further plans.” There’s certainly a lot to be said for locally-themed projects.

Smaller centres in secondary locations may not have the budget of bigger city centre schemes, but there’s nothing to stop them reuniting communities with their local history and heritage. According to Andrew Keiller at Brandspace, if big brands aren’t queuing up to fill vacant units then local retailers are the next best thing. “Our primary objective is to get brands into vacant spaces because this is the best case scenario for everyone, but it can be tough. If big brands want a shop, then they’ll open one. Taking promotional space on a short-term let is not as valuable for the brand or for the shopping centre.” This is where new companies come in. “The move towards RMUs

is incredibly positive for everyone. It lowers cost of entry for start-up retailers and gets them going,” he says. “The most successful ones tend to be young, local brands that don’t have the budget to open a shop but do have a great product.” Promotional sites are Brandspace’s area of expertise, and the

increase in vacancies over the past year has altered the way these sites can be used for commercialisation. “Promotion sites in front of empty units can be incredibly valuable for us,” explains Keiller. “Before, an RMU or pop-up store would have blocked an existing shop front.


London’s Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, owned by St Modwen, is not a typical centre in itself. James Stockdale, development surveyor at St Modwen, describes it as “a real mix – not just a standard shopping centre but more of a community feel”. So when it comes to commercialisation, Stockdale wanted to capitalise on this sense of community and interaction. “We’re always on the lookout for local projects to fill up vacant space and bring life and creativity into the shopping centre,” he says. Although Elephant & Castle has only one remaining vacancy, it’s built a reputation for bringing arts events to a different audience. A current initiative, Theatre Local, sees the centre team up with the Royal Court Theatre to bring a series of plays to its vacant unit. “The idea was to bring theatre into the community,” explains

Stockdale. “The Royal Court Theatre is based in Sloane Square, but it wanted to move to a location with a completely different demographic to people who usually go to the theatre.” The Royal Court’s first stint at Elephant & Castle 18 months ago

was a “massive success” according to Stockdale, with many people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre coming to watch the play. This time round, there are four plays running over a total of six months: “Normally, we offer a rolling monthly basis for charities, but this is a proper six month term with The Royal Court paying rent and business rates for two units on the upper ground floor,” adds Stockdale, People can book tickets before or turn up when the shows start,

at 4pm for matinees and 7pm for the evening performance. The audience sit the front of the store, and new signage and projector screens allow people to stand outside and watch. “It looks great even when there isn’t a performance on. For me, that’s the main aim of all of this. The last thing anyone wants is a barren unit. Posters are good, but what you really want is people milling around inside.” Theatre Local is one of six initiatives designed to continue the

success of Elephant & Castle’s regeneration project and encourage a wider range of people to the centre. “We’ve had a charity fashion show and artists in residence,” says Stockdale. “The important thing is to make sure that the activity you’re putting on opens up the unit. We’re never too stringent with temporary lettings – some experiences only last a few days. But we always have a detailed discussion on what the retailers are going to offer so that we avoid upsetting existing tenants.”

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