A pop-up space (also called meanwhile use) is a temporary activity in an underused space. There are many activities you can organise in a pop-up space. You could for example try a new business, organise an exhibition, start a social project or make it a community meeting space. Whatever you do, pop-up spaces can be a great way to start addressing the problem of vacant shops and buildings.


The most important thing is to make sure there is a match between your idea and the empty space. If you already have a space but no idea, it might be helpful to ask local people what they would like to see in a place. You could do a short survey among passers-by and ask them what facilities they miss in the area. Or ask them to write down on a window sticker what they’d like to see in the space.

Candy Chang’s “I wish this was”

If you have an idea but no space yet, then the best starting point is to walk around and talk to local people to find a space. You can also make a land registry search or ask local property agents.

Land Registry Search

If you’re planning for something bigger, such as the charity market in Worthing, you will need to organise meetings with local organisations to develop your ideas. Make sure your idea has a clear aim. Do you just want to try out your new product or make an effort to attract more people to the High Street?


If you’re just planning to open a pop-up shop your team might stay quite small. If you are trading, you will need to register as a business.

Starting a business

If you’re planning for a larger public event in your pop-up space you most likely have to set up a team. Make sure your team has a wide range of skills. Here are some of the things you’ll need to consider:

– project management
– finances (eg budget management)
– fundraising
– marketing and promotion
– leadership
– DIY skills

If you are planning to host community events in your space, you could ask local people to help you redecorate. Perhaps there are local artists or art students that can make the space a bit more special?

You will also need to formalise your team. You can either remain an unincorporated organisation (each individual will stay personally responsible) or become a more formal organisation. Another option would be to organise through an existing organisation.

Legal structures for not for profit organisations
Routemap to choose a legal structure


Your first step is to make sure you secure a space. Once you have identified a space, it is time to speak to the owner and convince him or her to allow you to use the space. Good arguments to convince the owner to allow a pop-up or meanwhile use are:

– space can attract new attention from businesses, increasing the prospect of future users
– less costs for maintenance and security (can lower insurance costs)
– temporary use may qualify for business rate relief
– if meanwhile use is for more than 6 weeks and one day, the owner might qualify after use for exemption for business rates based on being empty again

Once you have agreed that you can use the space, you need to have in place some form of lease. Don’t rely on an oral agreement! It is recommended that all parties (landlords and tenants) seek legal and professional advice in each case before signing.

Meanwhile Use Lease
Intermediary Meanwhile Use Lease
Meanwhile Use Sublease

Before you sign for the space, it is important to make sure you will have everything ready to occupy the space once your contract starts. Good planning helps with that. Check how much time it takes to get licences and insurance in place. Think about how much time it will cost to redecorate the space and, if you are selling products, when these will be available. A handy instrument for planning is a Gantt chart, which helps you to define, plan and track all the steps needed before you can open to the public.

Gantt chart for Excel

It is important to think ahead about the costs involved. These may include:
– rent for the space (if you have not negotiated to use the space for free)
– business rates (check if you qualify for a discount)
– decoration costs (you can decrease these costs by using used materials) and repairs
– licences and insurance
– costs for promotion
– bills, utilities
– employees or volunteer costs (if you need them)

When you are trading something or delivering paid services, it is wise to register voluntarily for VAT.

Sutton Council Business Rates
Business Rates relief
HMRC VAT-registration

Risk assessment
It is important that your space is safe for the public. You should do a risk assessment well in advance of opening your space.

More detailed risk assessment information
Online risk assessment tool for shops


Apart from the leases with your landlord, certain activities may need extra licensing.

Food licensing
If you are planning to sell food from a space you will need to make sure you are registered with the Council as a food trader. You must also comply with food and health & safety legislations, have in place a food safety management system and have health & safety risk assessments. You must be able to assure the Council Environmental Health teams that any food being sold or served on your site meets these safety standards.

Food trader registration

Planning Consent
Planning consent is required when you make substantial material changes to the interior and/or exterior of a shop. This could include changing signage, new lighting, etc. It may also be necessary if you are proposing a significantly different use for a space. If that’s the case, you might want to look for a different space first to avoid having to go through the planning application process.

To help you with the planning application, you can get pre-application advice from Planning Officers.

Pre-application advice
Application form and guidance

Most insurance companies are used to insuring more permanent activities. Therefore insuring for a meanwhile use can be a bit harder to arrange and relatively expensive. First check if your landlord has insurance on the property, ie if the space is already insured against fire, burglary and other hazards.
If this is not the case, you’ll have to find insurance yourself. Make sure you are insured against public liability, accidental damage, your stock and fixtures and employer liability (if you are employing people).


To make sure people visit your space from day one you need to start producing publicity well in advance of opening. The easiest and most direct way to let people know that you are starting something is to put a big poster on the window(s) of your space. This will let passers-by know that something is about to happen!

Social Media
Social media will be helpful as well to spread the news. Use Twitter to directly get in touch with other people who can spread the word. Once you’re open, Twitter is a good way to spread word about special offers or events.

Facebook provides a good way to quickly build a community around your meanwhile space. You can post information on opening times, offers and talk to people directly. Make sure your Twitter and Facebook accounts are mentioned on your window poster!

If you are planning to start something big, such as a community market, you may want to advertise in newspapers or other local media. Costs are between £50-150 depending on size per edition.

Sutton Guardian
Surrey Comet


Start up Sutton
Start-up Sutton will give you the support and advice you need to take your business from concept to reality.
To register for Start-up Sutton call 020 8642 9661 or email: business@suttonchamber.co.uk
For more information visit www.businesssupportsutton.co.uk

Other resources
Empty shops network
Empty shops workbook