On the 1st and the 2nd of May I had a great opportunity to help a charity.
I volunteered for the 3space Re:Think Festival at the 3space Blackfriars Hub. If you know 3space you should ask me “which charity”. If not, probably you shall need some explanations.
3space, as it can be read on its website, is an extremely innovative charity which “unlocks the potential of empty commercial properties by making them available for temporary community use”. Its novelty lies on the business model: the organization makes agreements with landlords and offers to charities and social enterprises temporary free access to properties which otherwise would be empty and not utilized. It generates a virtuous circle: the landlords benefit because they not only increase their reputation, but also keep the property in use, so it doesn’t get old – it remains on the market as well, so they don’t loose potential sales; the charities benefit for a free space to use as their office, or as a base for pop-up projects; finally the community benefits because of the work and the initiatives of the charities.
It is to tell that 3space was included in the list of Britain’s 50 New radicals 2012, and nominated at Smarta100 as well. So it is definitely an organization which has something to teach.
The Re:Think Festival hosted more than 50 charities and social enterprises. For 3 days it has been a place full of great insights, art, social care, civilization initiative…a world of possibilities. Just to name some of the guests – you can find more information on the Re:Think website – The Edible Bus Stop, which transforms neglected sites across London’s bus network into valuable community growing spaces: Sustrans, which develops practical, cost-effective initiatives that enable many more people to travel by foot, bike or public transport; The Living Furniture Project, which employs and trains homeless to make beautiful up-cycled – and so sustainable, waste-reducing and unique– furniture; make: good, which designs community public spaces with the communities, and has an innovative approach from the engaging to the activities it organizes in the places.
As I said I volunteered, but I shall admit that I barely did a few to help the charity: I just had to check that every room of my section had every tool and device on the list, and control the timing in order not to encounter delays during the scheduled activities. Other than this, I actually attended the workshops.
The most uplifting meetings I attended were three: Community space for making items from waste materials, Rethinking Housing, and Pop Up Meet Up.
The first workshop I mentioned was headed by The Remakery, an innovative social enterprise which I was happily surprised to find settled in my borough, Brixton. It converted a disused underground car-park into a co-working and educational space for up-cycling items. The staff- all volunteers – renovated the site using a community self-build method. The Remakery offers many services like memberships for co-workers (including the usage of all the materials, not only the space) and for suppliers, service users and sponsors / donors; they will open a remakers store where they will sell affordable re-used materials for DIY, gardening, art, design and crafts; parts of the site would be available to be hired for events and training programmes related to reuse, skills and sustainability; last but not least The Remakery organizes workshops and training courses for the community.
During the Rethinking Housing talk my attention was attracted by City House Projects and especially the Rational House. It is a new family city residence in Hammersmith which match quality with sustainability, comparing different house models from different parts of the world, contextualizing them, considering the urban character and the density of population within the area. The design of the Rational House is made to be flexible and scalable, in order to be a family house, a flat, a block of offices or workshops, or spaces for commercial uses.
At the Pop Up Meet Up I discovered two interesting and clever projects, Theatre Delicatessen and The Shop Revolution. The first one is a charity which transforms disused buildings into creative hubs that provide a live space for artists; secondly it supports emerging theatre artists by providing space for them to develop ideas and share new work, offering them advice, mentoring and assistance in realising their productions. As an example, they brought to a new life the former offices of BBC London at 35 Marylebone High Street, and transformed them into their current – and wonderful – location, Marylebone Gardens.
Similarly to 3space, The Shop Revolution offers to landlords an opportunity of short-term leases of their properties which prevent the places to get old between tenants, but instead of being given to charities and social enterprises, they are transformed into pop up businesses and organizations. The project has been tested through three 4 weeks – shops during the 2012 Christmas period in the areas of Sydenham, Kirkdale, and Forest Hill, then seven between January and May 2013.
I do believe that all those projects are examples of disrupting businesses because they are a great efficient mix of:
- Sharing knowledge, capabilities, properties, ideas, collaborations;
- Local communities – driven projects, from the design to the realization, from the usage to the training and to the activities made by and for the community itself;
- Reuse and transformation of empty buildings and waste materials;
- Economic and Environmental Sustainability;
Many thanks should be told to 3space: other than responding to all those characteristics, it is an aggregator of brilliant organizations as well: it generates an echo which I hope will continue to reverberate for long.