20 August 2010

Investing in a pop-up society

The Ping! London initiative scattered 100 ping pong tables across London this summer

Public and charitable bodies are starting to realise the potential of short-term space projects to develop community cohesion and regenerate areas. Sean Lightbown explores

Across the country, art shows, cafés and teaching rooms are appearing where there were once empty sites. But unlike other short-term ventures, these pop-ups have social, not financial motivation.

Take CompARTment in Brighton. It is a non-profit collective of artists, photographers and others involved in crafts, and aims to transform empty spaces in the local area into places of interest.

A similar project, NOISELAB, started in Manchester last year. It aims to provide a place for young creatives to network, and showcase and sell their artistic wares. The space also hosts exhibitions and holds workshops on topics ranging from fashion design to MC-ing.

“Pop-ups allows business regeneration. But for us, there must be some kind of social benefit.” 

Public authorities have also backed Ping! London, a project designed to get a million more people playing table tennis before the 2012 Olympics. To do this, 100 ping-pong tables have been placed across London this summer, as well as a pop-up café called the Ping Pong Parlour. The project will extend to other cities in the UK, coming back to London in time for the Games.

The emergence of these projects, supported by public and charities, suggests that there is a market for developing community spaces with mainly cultural intentions. But why pop-up?

Looking through the coalition government’s agenda offers clues. “It’s all very Big Society,” said Eddie Bridgeman, director of Meanwhile Space, a community interest company that organises constructive uses for temporarily redundant spaces. 

“It’s good to fill empty spaces and get small businesses on their feet.” 

“Pop-ups offer people the chance to try something different, raise their profile and try their own thing. It also allows business regeneration. But for us, there must be some kind of social benefit.”

This is also the case for Manchester City Council, which saw backing NOISELAB as a way to educate people and rejuvenate the city centre. “We support it in order for people to gain experience in the creative industries,” said spokeswoman Clare Donnelly. “It’s good to fill empty spaces and get small businesses on their feet.”



The local area can ride on the wave of a successful pop-up, as the CompARTment project demonstrates.

“Our space is next to the market, so the traders there are happy because having a colourful facility adjacent means that more people will browse the stalls. Derelict spaces are quite off-putting,” said Nic Blair, co-founder of the project. “People are more likely to come back too, and we try to promote other stores in the area through our work.” 

“The result [of using a social space] is that people are discovering the fun of table tennis and want to play more.” 

Creating a social atmosphere for pop-ups also helps. This is something that Ping! London has done, by running tournaments and quiz nights alongside table tennis at the Ping Pong Parlour.

“Public engagement and active involvement of everyone was the main aim of Ping”, said Hannah Schmidt, spokeswoman for Ping! London. “The result [of using a social space] is that people are discovering the fun of table tennis and want to play more.”

The short life span of a pop-up encourages people to spare time for it. “The temporary nature of our project means people are more willing to help out,” says Blair. “Artists, photographers and the like can come down, do their bit and then leave. A permanent space is less transient.” 

"It’s not about getting people in, but getting them to think differently" 

Temporariness can also add novelty. For Bridgeman, this taps into a person’s ingrained natural curiosity towards new things, and can be vital for pop-ups to attract attention. Meanwhile Space’s current job, The Seaside Project, epitomises this, aiming to promote the British seaside to a creative, urban audience.

“It’s not about getting people in, but getting them to think differently about the seaside. To that extent it has been a great success.”







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