On transforming London’s neglected spaces

As a hybrid between property developer and social enterprise, Make Shift is overhauling London’s neglected places and reopening them to local people. CR met with Make Shift Managing Lead James Leay to find out why the model works

The narrative about disappearing studios, demolished workshops, and greedy property developers is pervasive in London. But thanks to Make Shift, a new approach to the city’s spaces is emerging – one that values local business, creativity, and community, and proves you can do that and still make money.

The company, which is variously referred to as a social enterprise, project manager, and property developer, was born out of the management team at community initiative Pop Brixton – a collection of shipping containers, located on a former brownfield site, that opened in 2015 as a space for local businesses. Pop Brixton has a community focus, concentrated on supporting charitable projects, offering free space for local events, and holding open workshops – all on top of giving south London businesses a place to establish themselves. A number of studios are maintained at affordable prices, with Supported Units, aimed at startups, and Shared Studios, aimed at artists and craftspeople, currently available for £168 a month. Companies already operating from the converted containers include everything from a Japanese knife shop and a churro kiosk to a radio station and social enterprise that helps ex-offenders into work. Its success earned the management team the chance to suggest a similarly community- and creative- focused project for a multi-storey car park in Peckham – which would later open as Peckham Levels – and Make Shift was born.