Never mind pop-up shops, what about pop-up tenancies? A campaign is trying to create organised, short-term licenced squatting in empty commercial property as a way of helping with London's homelessness and housing problems.
Dave Wybrow, manager of the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone , began the campaign after he and his staff found Kinga, a young law student, sleeping in the theatre car park before Christmas. She was hoping to be picked up by a homeless charity, but died the following day. Dave doesn't know the exact cause of Kinga's death but, he says, "no-one here who met her that day believes she would have died if she was not homeless, or even had an alternative that night to going back on the street".
His idea is to bring back the short life housing schemes that used to be run by councils and housing associations. In return for basic maintenance, homeless people would be granted squatters rights for an agreed period of time in empty buildings. He continues:
"The point is that with new data systems and a London-wide Mayor's office, a new upgraded scheme is even more possible but, recently, squatting has been vilified rather than recognised and short life housing has been abandoned because hyper-development schemes in London have come to dominate the market and have pushed up asset values — meaning local authorities are pressed into the commercial land market rather than responding to actual needs.
"It's ironic that pop-up shop vacancies are being advertised on local authority websites when pop-up tenancies could so easily be re-modelled to suit current contexts. No one dies from lack of cupcakes."
Squatting has picked up a bad reputation in recent years, yet it was very common in the 1970s and 80s, bringing life back to run-down areas of London. Squatting in residential property has been illegal since September 2012, but squatting in commercial property is still permitted under the law. And for an idea of the realities of squatting, read our interview with a squatter from 2009 or watch this short film made recently about a Tottenham squat.
Tom Copley, Labour's housing spokesman on the London Assembly, is in favour. He told us:
"It's innovative ideas like this that could help to ease the housing shortage in London. When buildings are sitting vacant and unused it's totally right that we should be looking at ways they can be used to help provide housing. That is why the London Assembly has already called for the Mayor to set up a London-wide empty shops and offices register that lists landlords’ details on an online database. This would allow landlords and potential tenants to more easily connect."
You can sign the petition by going to 38 Degrees.