Sunday, 3 July 2011

Can Business and Volunteers work together in Hull's Regeneration?

In last week's article I talked about Local Business supporting a Volunteers group in our home town of Hull. I run the project, Hull Art, which aims to provide support and exposure for the artist communities in the city. Initially purely an online venture, it has recently opened a real world gallery through the support of local business. The donated premises is situated down Beverley Road, a large, central, but sadly somewhat run-down, area of Hull.

The boarded up shops outnumber those that aren't and there's more than a fair share of drunks and ne'er-do-wells . This makes the task of attracting trade to the few businesses on the road all the more difficult.

It's a terrible shame for a place with such a proud history and from the short time we've been there, it's clear that local residents would support any efforts to improve the area. We started to think that more galleries may help in this and wondered about those boarded up shops. Though it was more accident than design that we were there, perhaps we could help a little in it's regeneration, while still pursuing our core objectives.

Just at that point, an article from the BBC was posted to our facebook wall by one of our artists. It turns out we're not alone and all around the country other 'pop up' galleries are appearing in empty retail outlets. The combination of the recession and emergence of online retail has decimated the high street, with increasing numbers of brands either going under or cutting back on the number of outlets they can sustain.

Their loss could be our gain though, especially as the government is offering incentives that could help us. If a unit is unused for over 3 months, the Landlord may have to pay full business rates. However, if they let Charity use the space, they'll get an 80% reduction. This is also possible for Social Enterprises, though not mandatory.

This gave us hope that the end of our current tenure might not mean the end of the project, but also broadened our scope. Several galleries could be a possibility, so instead of a visitor spending twenty minutes in one, then leaving the road, they could spend a couple of hours meandering along an art trail of sorts. This would no doubt bring more business to the other retailers in between.

Then, another lucky find this time in the local newspaper, made this look all the more possible.Surface Architects, with offices in London and Hull, just so happens to be heading a project calledRevitalizing Beverley Road. I met up with them and they had great enthusiasm for the area and our idea, which is is an almost spookily good fit with their approach. They've offered to support us in any way they can, which should be a massive help, especially in finding and approaching landlords and getting the galleries open.

We've also offered help back, with us being well positioned to directly engage with the local community. Surface are currently mapping the area and involving the community is paramount to their strategy, so we can look to ways of doing that. More outlets will give us an even wider ability to do so.

The next step for us is to become official and register as a Social Enterprise, which we're doing next week. We're also meeting with the Local Council to see what support they can provide.

Fund raising, at least for a marketing budget, is on the agenda, with live art being painted, then auctioned in the gallery, being one of our first initiatives in this direction. Streams such as the Big Lottery Fund will become available once we're official, but we're very much wanting to develop ideas for income beyond grants and loans, so as to become self sustaining.

If you're a local business and interested in getting involved with this initiative to revitalize a too long neglec ted part of Hull, please get in touch. Thank you.

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