An Easton businessman has a solution that he says could be rolled out to bring empty shop premises back to life and benefit communities.
What was once another shuttered window on Roman Road is now a thriving premises, used by a wide range of organisations and groups that all share a common goal of improving life for people in the area.
Abdul Malik, who owns the Easton Community Shop as well as Pak Butchers next door, believes his model – in which organisations that can afford to pay a basic rent, enabling others to use the space for free – is a sustainable one that could be employed in other empty business premises across Bristol.
“We tried to rent it out commercially, but it had just become another empty shop,” explains Abdul.
“And having these empty shops does nothing for the area. I started using it for community meetings and that gave me an idea because there were so many people asking if they could use it for short timeslots. Many people do not have funding for new projects and to find a meeting space or office type environment for a new idea is virtually impossible in Bristol.
“We came up with a rota for community organisations that could make use of the space.”
The aim is to provide a platform and safe meeting space for anyone with a grassroots project or an idea that could benefit people in Easton.
Abdul successfully applied for a £2,000 grant from the Quartet Foundation to cover the set-up costs in the building, which has boards, flip charts, wall-mounted TV, basic kitchen facilities and tables and chairs to cover the needs of meetings, workshops and courses run there.
The community shop is now regularly used by a range of organisations, including social enterprise ACH, which provides housing and training opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers.
“The space enables organisations to test things,” continues Abdul.
“There is a bereavement programme that uses the room. It’s run by a lady who lost her husband and now she is a trained councillor and she wants to fill the gap she recognised when she lost her husband.
“I’m really proud that she is able to use this space. We also had a weekend school for SATs students.”
Abdul says there is also scope for informal mentoring and advice for people looking to get projects off the ground.
“If there is anybody who has an idea or a solution for a local problem, then they need to reach out. This gives them a space to do this – it’s a space brings people together,” he says.
“I think if landlords were a bit flexible, it’s a model that could potentially work in other places. If we look at the rise in flexible workspace, that’s creating big opportunities.
“It’s a model that landlords could consider that could in turn empower the local community. I think it becomes a very sustainable way of making a difference in your community.
“It’s about thinking outside the box. It’s not a big space but it could give a small project the visibility it needs to provide a service.”
Anyone interested in using the space can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07747 722 334.