We all need to face up to the fact that austerity, rent rises, and property costs remain a huge challenge to maintaining vibrant city centres. The free market has not served us well, particularly in central London, where property has been a huge attraction for global investors. In many UK cities the drive for housing has led to swathes of small office space being converted to residential, resulting in London and Birmingham running very short on offices, closely followed by Manchester and Leeds. We're pleased to say that Westminster City Council has taken a stand against these damaging conversions in Soho.
We know the shift to high end residential kills city centres, we've seen it in New York and parts of Paris already.
Yesterday, with Westminster City Council, I visited a building we are looking at for potential creative start up space. In the basement I passed a room, and wandered in. It was a wonderful, cosy cave of creativity, colour and clothes. Without knowing it I had wandered into Amy Kingsmill's room. Amy is an artist and performer who is also one of the live in guardians for the building. Live in guardians are people provided with accommodation in return for looking after the building, anyone familiar with Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Crashing will know all about it! The schemes have their detractors, but this one seems to work well. Amy is one of the creative workers living in Soho, making a great contribution to the diversity and culture. She wouldn't be able to live or work in Soho without the livein workspace given to her.
There were 15 or so similar guardian's in the building, they had all come across the roles in different ways, different introductions from different friends, yet they were all creative, a lively assortment of artists, performers, musicians, all there because Soho is a wonderful place to live and work, and if you're creative it's the best place to be in the world.
Every new building in our city centres should have live/work space for artists. We are long past the point where low rents on artists' studios mean much. There is little point in having city centre studio space if you have a two hour commute to get there.
Why are local authorities so nervous of an idea that solves so many problems at once? It keeps creativity and diversity in our city centres and ensures affordable living and working space for creative people. In its most basic form it is just working from home, nothing to be afraid of. Let's push hard for live-in/workspaces to be an essential part of all our city centre plans across the country.