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Building pop brixton How shipping containers and young businesses foster community growth

Five years ago, before their company even had its name, three people asked the question: how can we turn unused space into a community asset? From that premise, Pop Brixton was born.

Pop Brixton is the product of a company now called Make Shift, which aims at prioritizing local businesses. The pop-up, which was never designed to be permanent, has been in it’s Brixton, UK location for five years.

What's at Pop Brixton?

The site has numerous features: shipping containers that give local businesses a chance to make their debut, a community garden, a “peoples’ fridge” that is meant to help battle hunger and give people a place to donate food, a barber shop, a performance venue, and a radio station, where 18 to 24 year olds get to try their hand at the radio business.

The community garden.

On the weekends, Pop Brixton welcomes DJs or other live performers into it’s music hall, which draws large crowds from the community and greater London.

The performance space.

Building community at pop brixton

When a business owner signs a contract at Pop Brixton, part of the agreement is that they have to give back to the surrounding community.

As part of the lease, businesses need to spend one hour each week giving back. For one restaurant, Koi Ramen Bar, this means hosting karate lessons every Tuesday that are free to the public.

Pop Brixton also keeps its events spaces free to use for the community, 25 percent of the time, according to their website.

However, Pop Brixton has faced some criticism from the neighborhood; in the public eye, it battles the reputation of gentrifying the neighborhood, according to Morris Shamah, the assistant general manager for the space.

"[We] worry about where they go after they spend their money here”-Morris Shamah
Morris Shamah, the assistant general manager of Pop Brixton, talking about the space.

Shamah noted that although these criticisms exist, he’s also aware that people might not see the local good that Pop Brixton is bringing to the community: He said for every pound that this spent there, £1.60 is reinvested in the neighborhood.

He said they don’t “worry about who’s showing up, [we] worry about where they go after they spend their money here.”

Building Businesses at Pop Brixton

Pop Brixton houses 55 small businesses, and 10 of those units are “supported spaces” meaning they pay a reduced rent rate, and have to qualify with certain criteria.

The pop up carefully selects their storefronts, so as not to bring in competing businesses. According to Shamah, most of the businesses stay there between one and three years, and the management is rolling out a new plan where they have new members start at the same time so that they’re “on the same journey.”

In contrast to the farmers-market-like layout of shipping containers each housing their own local shops, the upstairs portion of Pop Brixton is home to restaurants with their own seating areas.

The goal of the restaurant area is for them to hopefully graduate and become full-fledged restaurants outside of the pop-up. Smoke and Salt, one of the restaurants that currently resides on the second floor, is about to move out; before them, Cricket was in their spot, and now, it has three locations in London.

Although Pop Brixton’s impermanence doesn’t lend itself to a long life within the shipping containers, Shamah said the hope is that they will find homes in Brixton.

“When we eventually leave, where will these shipping containers go? Where will these members go?” Shamah said, “Hopefully here in Brixton.”

Created By
Nicole Stock
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Nicole Stock