Artists and designers who are changing the shape of UK shopping streets

There was a similar blow after the global recession in 2008, but nothing quite like what is happening now. Walk down King Street today and you’ll see many empty units and empty stores with a lingering sort of quiet sadness on its cobbled, traffic-free parade.

It shouldn’t be that way. King Street has all the right ingredients. Once the hub of the English banking sector during the Industrial Revolution, it left behind beautiful black and white buildings and elegant details. Due to its upscale setting, it has an art gallery, good restaurants, and has enjoyed hosting decent street names for the past 20 years. But Boots, Monsoon and Timberland left some time ago and now Phase Eight and Jigsaw have followed.

Some see King Street as a window to what is happening elsewhere on the main streets. Not just recessions or pandemics, retailers have suffered greatly from the ever-increasing competition from online shopping. No matter the crushing rents, maybe it just isn’t fast enough to keep up with trends. Younger generations are coming in and opting for cooler, lesser-known brands that offer more flexibility through apps like Klarna. And who can compete with next day delivery or free and easy returns?

But in their place, we are seeing some interesting changes. Perhaps a glimpse of the future of our shopping streets. We see creative pop-ups from more independent brands as well as artists and designers. Is it any wonder that when owners find their lucrative units empty, they become more open to flexibility and offering space to those whose price was exceeded long ago?

Here on King Street in Manchester, a multidisciplinary artist from Denton is causing a stir. Liam Hopkins launched Lazerian Space, a hybrid pop-up art gallery where you eat and drink. Liam, who has worked with Selfridges and John Lewis, works with local vendors to offer freshly brewed coffees or alcoholic beverages as well as cakes and pastries, all while visitors enjoy sitting in one of the pods. colorful and spacious by Liam. .

Multi-sensory and intimate, the metal pods are lined with colorful padded walls made from 6,500 plastic bottles pulled from the ocean. Each also has its own scent. Inspired by the global pandemic and the way we all live in our own “bubbles,” Liam says it’s interesting how people react: “They put their cell phones down and actually talk to each other. Because each module is so private, they can completely relax. “

Only available for booking on weekends, the menu is constantly changing and the idea is to create a fully sustainable circular economy. Customers will have the chance to contribute an original sculpture that will be designed and created using all the plastic cups that will be continuously collected throughout the experience. They will also have the choice of using recyclable plastic for their drinks, drinking from space-style sachets, or simply opting for a ceramic mug. While the wooden cutlery will be reused in the Lazerian workshop as a source of heat and energy – mainly for the use of ceramics.

“People walk by and don’t know what this space is,” Liam explains. “It’s amazing to see the answer. It gives us a glimpse of what’s possible.”

In front of Liam’s space is The Pop Up Club, the original idea of ​​Tillie Peel. Essentially, this is a craft market showcasing the work of local designers and manufacturers, and will only be open until the end of August. Even on a gray Monday afternoon in Manchester, the space was buzzing. Those wishing to sell their wares in the bright and cool space are charged from just £ 25. And they can even offer workshops to those interested.

“Like everywhere else, Manchester has suffered a lot over the past 18 months,” said Liam. “I wanted to experiment with new concepts to bring a creative experience that will appeal to a wide variety of people and can stimulate all of the senses. There definitely seems to be an appetite for something different on Main Street.

“Usually my work takes physical form and yes there are actual physical parts in the store available to use and buy, but I want to make it a momentous event – an out of this world event.”

Tickets are on sale now and you can book a pod in advance for the length of time you need. Walk-ins are welcome but reservations will be given priority.

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