Bury St Edmunds: Empty shops set to be community spaces

EMPTY shops in Bury St Edmunds will be transformed into spaces for community groups and not-for-profit organisations.

3Space, a charity which works in partnership with landlords and leaseholders to offer organisations that benefit the community free access to otherwise empty properties, now has two vacant stores in the town.

Bosses for the organisation said the former JJB Sports and Littlewoods shop in Cornhill Walk are available to be used by charities and community interest companies free of charge.

Ella Fraser-Thoms, a spokeswoman for 3Space, said the charity has a portfolio of shops, owned by large businesses such as JJB Sports, that they then “unlock” for the community on behalf of the company.

“Basically we get charities and community interest groups and not-for-profit organisations and let them use the space for free,” she said. “All they have got to do is basic administration and things like sign sharing.”

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She added: “They can use them on a ‘Meanwhile Lease’ until the landlord has found permanent tenants. Some of the people using our sites have actually been based there for 19 months.

“The ‘Meanwhile Lease’ is actually something the Government is encouraging to make these kind of arrangements happen more easily and also to prevent shops and stores in town centres stand empty.

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“We want to keep the high streets busy and also help people engage with their community. It is a win-win situation, it’s a fantastic opportunity that some people think is too good to be true, but it isn’t.”

There are also benefits for the businesses as well.

Ms Fraser-Thoms said: “Basically if they have a charity in their shop, rather than it standing empty, they get 80% off their business rates.”

The spokeswoman said that they also try to avoid having “ordinary” charity shops using their sites, preferring a “more active space”.

She added: “One of the main things is that we try not to use them as charity shops, somewhere where people walk in, buy something and leave.

“We look to have groups that will actively engage with the community, whether it be a community group or someone that provides work shops.”

Papworth Trust and Smiths Row, a Bury-based educational arts charity, already use one of the sites for about one day a week.

Councillor Robert Everitt, cabinet member for St Edmundsbury Borough Council, said he thought the work of 3Space could provide a “nice addition” to the town.

He added: “It would be good to see organisations promoting community activity in one place.”

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