RCA Sustain Talk:

BOUGHT & SOUL-ED was number 3 in the series of Sustain Talks organised by the Sustain RCA group. The subject was how to put the soul back into our communities and kick-start the economy of the local high street through art, design and social enterprise. It was hosted by Clare Brass of the RCA and chaired by Liz Cox, an economist for the New Economics Foundation.

The evening  began with a first year RCA architecture student talking about his participation in the project Pop-Down Square. This was the winning entry for a competition brief to create a use for derelict land near Wembley Stadium in Brent, London.

Interior of pop down space

‘Pop-Down Square’ concept for Brent, London, by graduate group Mike Lim, Shoichi Sado, Olivia Wright and Isobel Davies.

The team designed a large adaptable deck area. The expectation is that Pop-Down Square will provide some much needed space in this corner of Brent for creative and social entrepreneurs. Local organisations, individuals, businesses and community groups are now being sought to bid to become tenants of the Pop-Down Square, as part of a nationwide competition.


Pop-Down Square Cinema Area.

The students will be involved in the construction of the site, which is due for completion in the Summer of 2013.

Next up were Eleanor Barrett and Rosie Freeman from The Brick Box company, which is  a not for profit arts and community organisation.


They believe that the arts should be for everyone and that it can be a transformational tool, providing the inspiration to improve social, emotional and cultural health. The Brick Box create artistic experiences in unusual, non-traditional and abandoned spaces, adding value to under-performing commercial properties and communities by stimulating the night-time economy.


Recently they held a series of events in Tooting Market, with support from the Greater London Authority, the Mayor of London, Wandsworth Council and the Tooting Town Centre Team. They worked with a wide range of community groups and artists to animate the market and create an enjoyable common space. Take a look at the video below, by MarkJoycefilms, to see what they got up to.

Another space they’ve utilised is Brixton Village, where they hosted exhibitions, screenings, live art, theatre and large scale events. In Spring 2012, The Brick Box also negotiated a six month trial use of a well-known space nearby, 354 Coldharbour Lane, formerly The Angel Public House. With this project they aimed to provide a welcoming, inspiring and safe space for people to build an artistic community. They experimented with a varied and exciting programme, offering locals the opportunity to curate and host events too. The Arts Hijack, with Pinch TV, Sept 29, was the last event in the space. See the highlights here.

The team are currently taking time out to hone their business plan, but look out for them as the Nine Elms Battersea plans develop. They have big ideas and are collaborating with a New York lighting designer to develop a nighttime strategy.

Paul Squires, from UnLtd, talked about Re-Imagine Your High Streeta new national town centre programme, founded by him and run by nef (New Economics Foundation). The purpose of the initiative is to create new activity on our high streets.

The programme focuses on town and city centres, the people that run them, the businesses that operate there, residents and visitors. By putting people and planet first they maintain they’re “an antidote to Clone Town Britain”. Through short workshops, or long-term programmes, they aim to create town centres that are sustainable community hubs, where people go to meet each other, not just to shop.


Paul says we need to think more creatively about our High Streets and not depend just on retail spend, but more on public wellbeing. Our local residents are the greatest asset to our towns. “The towns most dependent on the big chains and out of town stores have proven to be most vulnerable to the economic crisis. The government’s Big Society idea cannot be built on these fractured local economies, represented so clearly by the empty shop fronts along our high streets.”…

…“It’s not all doom and gloom, we found many towns that are thriving with initiatives to retain local diversity. The local currency schemes in Lewes and Brixton, for example; community buy-outs of post offices and pubs from Yorkshire to Cornwall, and loyalty cards for shopping at independent retailers from London to Penzance.”

For more information and design guidance, read the report: Re-Imagining The High Street: Escape From Clone Town Britain.

The People Who Share founder Benita Matofska spoke about the benefits of being a sharing community. The more you share, the better it gets – the more you have, the less you have to buy. And, unlike some resources, sharing is not finite, we have unlimited potential to share.


The People Who Share’s vision of the future is a thriving Sharing Economy where the need to own is transformed. People share stuff – skills, time, resources, knowledge, responsibility, opportunities, ideas, goods and services. It’s a world in which we collaborate to enhance each other’s lives, create wealth and protect our planet. Take a look at the video below for a quick overview.

The organisation runs big campaigns such as Global Sharing Day and National Sharing Day reaching over 60million in 147countries. They want to enable sharing on a grand scale, making it easy for people who need to connect with people who have.

Global Sharing Day 2013 will take place on Sunday June 2 and this year they’ve partnered with The Big Lunch to help spread the word. The Big Lunch is an idea from the Eden Project with the aim of getting as many people as possible across the UK to have lunch with their neighbours, once a year, in a simple act of community, friendship and fun.

For all the details and to get involved see: The People Who Share.