Transforming Camden High Street: Camden Collective

This publicly-funded organisation are transforming Camden’s more dishevelled end of the high street.

Up until recently Camden’s main thoroughfare has been a tale of two cities: to the north Chalk Farm Road is the more “high end” bit, laden with vintage clothing stores, shoe shops, expensive furniture retailers and souvenir shops for tourists; to the south it’s dominated by takeaway pizza and chicken outlets and charity shops. Since the recession some of these have become vacant, which is where Camden Collective come in. This publicly-funded organisation are transforming Camden’s more dishevelled end of the high street.

Who are they?
The Camden Collective organisation host pop-up shops - they currently have five locations in Camden. Their largest is at 159-161, selling clothes, jewellery, accessories and homewares by up-and-coming designers, who will generally be here for anything from two weeks up to several months. Project manager Adam Richards says the most important prerequisite for candidates is to have a good product to sell, and one that will work in Camden, so think arty T-shirts, second-hand designer clobber and quirkily-designed crockery. Their other area is coffee; there’s a coffee and cake shop in-store here and no. 26 is a coffee shop spread over two floors.

In addition they have “hubs” where freelancers can use their office space for free, with wi-fi, meeting rooms and kitchen facilities.

How do they do it?
With funding from Camden Council, Camden Town Unlimited, and the Mayor of London. They work with property agents who alert them to empty spaces, ideally fairly derelict ones which are cheaper to refurbish and rent. Their biggest unit at 159-161 took six weeks to refit, but obviously smaller ones take less time.

What else do they do?
They host events like supperclubs, talks, and exhibitions. In September last year no. 69 hosted a pop-up shop run by the Amy Winehouse Foundation selling merchandise and special editions of her albums to raise money for the charity.

They also run a two month intensive course in web development aimed at beginners. The course teaches coding for web and is free; it differs from most other courses in that it’s largely peer-led, meaning that students help each other out to do the bulk of the researching and learning rather than relying on conventional teaching.

How do they help the local community?
The first benefit is that take over vacant spaces, so there are no disused units gathering dust on the high street. Then aside from giving emerging designers and entrepreneurs a start, the shops provide other employment opportunities. Some assistants are employed on a semi-permanent, six month basis so that customers recognise familiar faces, while others are temporary and are contracted for several weeks. They also take on people to do work experience; in one case a reference was provided to a school leaver for them to get a job at the Waterstones over the road. The emphasis is on offering jobs to young people from the borough of Camden. According to Richards, there are other similar schemes operating in London, but this is undoubtedly the most successful one.
Added on September 15, 2014

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