Circular principles for social good: creating space for communities to thrive

ReSpace Projects is on a mission to make us all think differently about the way we use resources. The not-for-profit company facilitates the temporary transformation of empty buildings, at no cost to the landlords, into creative, productive, community hubs available for local people to use for projects from art exhibitions, yoga classes and skate parks to office space and public meetings.

“The idea started when we realised just how much unused space there is in London and elsewhere. Thousands of buildings are left empty for long periods, for one reason or another,” explains ReSpace founder Gee Sinah.

“As a society we have a mindset that allows valuable resource to be routinely wasted, while so many people are in need. We started to look for ways in which we could partner with landlords, architects, councils and local groups to make good use of wasted spaces.”

Gee believes that, given the space and opportunity to do so, communities will come together to do great things for themselves and for each other. High quality community spaces encourage innovation and enable everyone, including those who may not otherwise have the resources to do so, to try out their ideas. “It is about connecting people through projects,” says Gee.

A model for Holistic Urban Regeneration

The Hive project came about in 2015 when ReSpace managed to negotiate temporary use of a large office building in Dalston while it awaited planning permission. “We had finally found a landlord, Michael Gerrard of Investland, who understood what we were trying to do and was willing to trust us with his building.”

Initially a six-month pilot, extended to two and a half years, Hive was both a test bed for ideas and a showcase for the ReSpace approach. Over the months, the building hosted a dazzling array of art, cultural, sporting, educational and community events, attended by more than 30,000 people.

Architectural Designer Joanna Jagusiak was involved with Hive from the outset, as 840 square metres of unused offices over three floors were repurposed to create vibrant, functional exhibition and event spaces in just three weeks. “We started with a budget of £250 to cover insurances and safety equipment. Everything else we needed was rescued from waste or donated, including all the furniture, materials and volunteer time.”

As well as a packed programme of social events, which grew organically as the project developed, ReSpace ran a series of ‘City Makers’ conferences at Hive, bringing together people from all layers of society. It was these conversations – between local residents, designers, planners, politicians and developers – that shaped the model for Holistic Urban Regeneration now championed by ReSpace.

It is an approach based on sharing, not just the space itself, but everything from white goods and furniture to food, experience, time, expertise and ideas. ReSpace’s vision is that communities everywhere will find innovative, relevant ways to make use of unused space and other resources. The company is campaigning for changes to the planning system and gearing up to offer support for other space reuse projects, like The Craftory in Newham, which it helped to set up in 2016. The team provides advice, contacts and expertise and there are plans to provide more practical help in the future too, such as vehicles for transporting donated goods and warehousing.

HIVE closed its doors in November 2017 when the building was returned as promised to the landlord for development. True to its circular principles, everything in it was given away to be used elsewhere. It is estimated that the project generated the equivalent of more than £1M in the services it provided during its short lifetime. Its social value to the people of Dalston and London, though harder to quantify, is much greater.


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