Not My Beautiful House

As soon as I started at Kingston almost two years ago now, I was introduced to Union of Kingston Students. We started to explore and research models of student-led shops to help them have a retail offering larger than a rail of hoodies on campus. We found some amazing models of student and artist-led enterprises across the country: Saltspace run by GSA alumni, Re_So from Southampton, and a hive of activity in Croydon with Turf/CAS and FMM Pop Up. In Margate, the daddy of pop up shops Dan Thompson was happy to chat about what he’d done and also SJ at Margate Superstore. We were inspired. Could we do the same in Kingston?

We recce’d many of the premises that had been vacant for well over a year with the help of Kingston First who provided a list of shops and landlords. Some of them smelt, some of them didn’t. I wish I’d recorded a call with one of the estate agents who told me “You’ll never get a landlord to agree to a temporary use for the university with art inside it”.

Before Christmas, in the middle of a pandemic — I get the call from an incredible landlord we’d met before lockdown who had an idea— did we want a space rent-free for six months? I had to get him to repeat it a few times.

The first three months of the year were spent putting together a crowdfunding bid for Make London in conjunction with the SU. And then it began to take over everything. Every week a new pledge goal to reach, another week refreshing and refreshing the page as it crept up, sharing the link in multiple Whatsapp groups of friends, family, relatives and strangers. Emailing pals asking for their support. Talking to people I’d worked with in the past, the present or might want to in the future. People who leaned into risk and got the concept straight away. Local businesses who contributed to the campaign in a lockdown when they were themselves closed. Campaigning in a pandemic, when the campaigning guidebook hasn’t even been updated to include Covid. Hours of voice notes to the SU, hours of Zoom and Teams pitches. And then it started to get serious.

Alongside all this we were briefing student teams from the department I sit in on coming up with a name, identity and branding for the space. We also briefed interior design students to come up with a space plan and interior designs for the space — still without seeing it — that could be easily assembled and moved to another space.

We had an incredible £10,000 pledge from the developer who owns a stretch of the riverfront in Kingston who we’d worked with in lockdown on a commission from Mat Collishaw which only launched last week due to lockdown.

And then the email from the website — “Congratulations the Mayor is pledging to your cause, tomorrow you will find out the amount.”

I lost my voice from screaming so much the next day. We got the maximum bid possible — £30,000 — which went onto the crowdfunding page immediately. The game was on! Two days later, we got confirmation from RBK they were about to almost match the bid. So we were overfunded, with 55 days to go.

Grace and I got interviewed on Remarkable City’s “In the Neighbourhood” about the project. I joined a podcast to talk about the model and what we’ve been doing.

As I write we are still wrangling ready for opening. But we are close, as I always say…watch this space.

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