London’s largest meanwhile space: LOWE partners with arts charity SET to open new Arts Centre

The LOWE Group has announced a partnership with arts charity, and non-profit organisation, SET, in turning disused buildings into affordable artists’ studios; SET Woolwich, Beresford Street, hosts over 250 workspaces, and is one of the largest meanwhile spaces in London.

Rising rents in London is having an adverse impact on artists, musicians and creatives, who are being priced out of the city. Particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, access to affordable workspace for artists is crucial, when the creative economy has seen limited support and unprecedented job losses.

The LOWE Group have diversified their property services to include Charitable Occupation, which, in partnership with Arts charity, SET, provides affordable studio space, whilst at the same time helping landlords protect their buildings against squatters, anti-social behaviour and vandalism.

Social impact is a vital part of LOWE’s business practice, and a principal value is support and involvement with the local community. The importance of this partnership with SET is to provide artists, musicians, voluntary and charitable groups with the space to create locally based, stimulating communities, and help the surrounding community to flourish.

Creating affordable studio space not only utilises vacant properties to drive positive impact and change within local communities, but also benefits landlords who are looking to create social impact through their vacant space, whilst artists benefit from affordable creative spaces, as well as access to a community for collaborating and networking.

Tim Lowe, Founder & Director of The LOWE Group says, “We want to breathe fresh life into vacant buildings and create positive social impact by doing so. Artists have a great way of bringing buildings back into the heart of the community, and so we’re excited to partner with SET to house artists and creatives who contribute to the vitality of the local community, and who would otherwise be unable to afford normal commercial rents.”

LOWE has partnered with SET on three separate projects across London; Limeharbour, New Cross and Woolwich. Limeharbour provides studio space for musicians, and New Cross affords 30 artists with studio space in a former warehouse. Riverside East & West (now renamed as SET Woolwich) are two former office buildings on Beresford Street, Woolwich and are the most ambitious, spanning 140,000 sq. ft. and 19 storeys.

Opened in February 2021, SET Woolwich hosts over 250 workspaces and exhibition space and is one of the largest meanwhile spaces in London. The project will run for a guaranteed 18-month period, with three months rolling thereafter. Free space has also been awarded to select charities and community groups, supporting grassroots movements, community initiatives and registered charities. The studios are some of the most affordable London has to offer; priced at £0.9 per sq. ft. per calendar month, all-inclusive, ranging from 200 sq. ft. to whole floors totalling 5,000 sq. ft.

Josh Field, Co-Founder & Director of SET says, “With arts and culture under such immense financial pressure it’s more crucial than ever for artist communities to have access to space they can genuinely afford; not space that is simply branded as ‘affordable’. Working with LOWE has enabled us to further bridge a gap between our charitable use of vacant space and the property industry; solidifying ourselves as a viable and charitable alternative to conventional property security services – this in turn reduces our overheads and means we can focus on our charitable objectives, keeping the costs low for our members, and having a greater positive impact on the communities we support.”

SET was founded in 2016 with the objective to support and nurture London’s artist communities. A multifaceted arts and community organisation based in numerous centres across London, SET curates an eclectic and experimental arts and educational programme alongside providing genuinely affordable artist workspace. The creation of large-scale installations often requires space, industrial tools, and the freedom to make noise, which is not possible in urban residential properties, and traditional studio space is very expensive to rent. Combining the need for space and the freedom to create, with the vast number of vacant commercial properties in London, lead to the partnership between LOWE and SET.

Riverside East & West are owned by MDPL, a young and ambitious development company with deep rooted values when it comes to community well-being. Simon Hall, Director of MDPL commented “We acquired the building in November 2020, and our priority for the duration of the project elaboration period would be to maximise social value for the community. Partnering with LOWE made complete sense, especially once we heard their final proposal to work with arts charity, SET.”

Simon Hall continues, “During our regular visits on site, it is so rewarding to see how much life is there in the building, and pleasure to know that some of the studios are licensed to local community activities, like a dance studio for children and adults, a local volunteers organisation and others. On a wider scale, as one of the largest studio spaces in London, we can see changes to the social landscape contributing to improving the image of Woolwich. As it is in our best business interests, we see our cooperation with LOWE as the perfect example of a win-win solution.”

Much like guardianship, Charitable Occupation makes use of vacant properties, but utilising buildings which are not suitable for conventional living spaces. The vacant buildings are converted into safe, usable spaces ensuring that they are secure and fully compliant with health and safety standards. Vacant properties are subject to business rates, but registered charities are eligible for a mandatory 80% business rates relief. The LOWE Group manages the process and ensures that the rates relief are successfully applied for.

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