Rent-free store units help East London street after Covid-19

A shopping street in Poplar, East London, is seeking to give retail businesses a post Covid-19 kickstart by providing free shop units to local entrepreneurs and organisations.

The initiative has been launched by a new business development scheme called START HERE. It is seeking to transform Aberfeldy Street by giving it a new look and making it more attractive to companies and consumers.

Improvements include upgraded street lighting and signage, along with murals and street art that reflects the local community. The street is home to a diverse mix of stores, including a grocer and a tailor, as well as facilities including an arts hub a youth boxing club, the latter supported by the START HERE initiative.

Rent-free spaces will now be made available for a one-year trial period, along with other business support and mentoring advice, as part of the initiative. Community group Aberfeldy Big Local will be making grants of up to £5,000 available to successful candidates. After the first year rents will continue at reduced rates kept below market values.

Aberfeldy Street
Aberfeldy Street

“High streets are vital spaces that bring communities together, and now more than ever it is important that we are supporting new, local businesses that are the heart and soul of the high street. The physical improvement works in Aberfeldy Street mark the start of the revitalization of the street and reflect our approach in embracing the local identity and wider community as we continue with our redevelopment plans on our project,” explains Ben Ffoulkes-Jone, project director at project partner EcoWorld London.

“Existing local businesses have been an important part of the improvement works so far, sharing ideas on how our local high street can evolve. We look forward to seeing a new wave of exciting ideas coming through.”

While improvement works have been on hold during the pandemic lockdown, applications can be made now for at least three retail units. Businesses or individuals in East London are being encouraged to apply, to ensure the street provides a diverse offer that reflects the needs of the community.

Aberfeldy Street mural
Aberfeldy Street mural

START HERE is being led by High Street Works, which is a multi-disciplinary collaboration between social enterprise group Meanwhile Space CIC and Jan Kattein Architects, which specialises in areas such as urban design and town centre regeneration. The objective of the collaboration is to create 'high-street improvement interventions' that will boost the wider area.

Emily Berwyn, executive director of Meanwhile Space CIC, says: “Our ethos is to realise the meanwhile potential in empty spaces, and in particular to ensure those spaces provide opportunities within the communities in which they sit. With the current crisis facing us, providing these opportunities that will help to rebuild communities is more important than ever.”

High Street Works has been commissioned by Aberfeldy LLP, which is a joint venture between property developer EcoWorld London and housing association Poplar HARCA. The intention for the street to become a revitalised space, but to remain a vibrant community hub.

“A one year rent free period is a unique and welcome opportunity for businesses to take advantage of post Covid-19. Aberfeldy Street is at the heart of the wider regeneration of the area, and we look forward to welcoming new businesses to an already close and diverse community,” says Poplar HARCA chief executive Steve Stride.

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