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Scheme could see Ilford’s empty shops converted into working space for start-ups

PUBLISHED: 07:00 06 September 2016

Ilford town centre

Ilford town centre

Archant

A business group is looking to reduce the number of empty shops in the borough’s high streets by allowing start-ups and community groups to use the vacant spaces.

The proposed scheme is the result of the collaboration between Sophia Hub, based at Redbridge Institute of Adult Education, Gants Hill, and Astop, a not-for-profit organisation that works with landlords to help them reduce costs when their retails units are empty.

When a retail unit is used for charitable purposes, the rates landlords have to pay are reduced.

Under the plan, artists, young businesses in need of a working space and community groups would be able to use vacant shops temporarily and free of charge until the landlord finds a more permanent tenant.

Ros Southern, who runs the Sophia Hubs, said the scheme has “great potential” to regenerate the borough’s high streets.

She said the problem of vacant shops was “very visible” – especially in Ilford – but these spaces could be used to promote products and services and give “vibrancy” to the town.

“There is a need in Redbridge of premises for businesses who want to scale up and Sophia Hubs is keen to utilise all possible means to support startups and the local economy.

“People taking the space over have to know that they could be out within weeks of setting up although sometimes these shops stay empty for years. That is the risk to take,” she added.

Ms Southern said Sophia Hubs was keen to start trailing the scheme in Ilford and is looking to get in touch with landlords interested to take part.

Chairman of Redbridge Chamber of Commerce Geoff Hill welcomed initiatives to support businesses but called the proposal a “short-term fix”.

“The scheme gives opportunities to community groups but no certainty of tenure and it does not help businesses develop because there is no stability,” he said.

Mr Hill added there will not be many empty shops left in Redbridge as the borough was becoming “a hot spot for developers”.

More information here.


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