Kingston Council will deliver an innovative mix of coworking spaces, workstations, a cafe and creative performance and event space at a fantastic riverside location thanks to the hard work and vision of the Lib Dem-controlled Council.
Lib Dem Councillor Andreas Kirsch, Leader of the Council, signed off an agreement with the John Lewis department store to lease the Undercroft — a 7,000 sq ft section of basement and ground floor space which faces the riverfront — for the project as part of a larger plan for Reimagining Kingston Town Centre.
The Undercroft faces the riverside walk adjacent to Kingston Bridge, and benefits from proximity to the town centre, thriving entertainment and retail venues and excellent transportation links, making it an ideal space to nurture new creative businesses.
The spaces will support the growth of local businesses and will enable the creation of 500 new jobs for the Kingston economy over 10 years.
The workspaces will be managed by Town Square Spaces Ltd (TownSq) while local youth arts charity Creative Youth will look after the creative performance space.
“This agreement triggers the creation of two amazing Kingston Riverfront spaces in a section of a building closed to the public for decades,” said Lib Dem Cllr John Sweeney, portfolio holder for Business, Leisure and Economic Development, on the Council.
He added: “This will support local people looking to take their first steps in starting a business, and it will be an important destination for the young — and young at heart! — who will benefit from bringing this part of the riverside back to life.”
This is part of a long-term collaboration with businesses and local partners to reimagine Kingston Town Centre which has been years in the planning.
“It can take a while to launch projects because you need time to forge partnerships and build the dialogue and trust necessary to find solutions and reach agreements. However, the time spent working with stakeholders such as Creative Youth and John Lewis is worth it because it leads to better outcomes for the community,” said Cllr Kirsch.
“The Lib Dem approach is always to work ‘with’ the community rather than doing things ‘to’ the community,” he said.
The Lib Dem ethos in town centre development is in stark contrast to the Tory approach. The Tories introduced “Permitted Development” rules allowing developers to convert commercial space to residential whilst denying local communities any say in the shaping of their town centres and high street. The impact was to hollow out Kingston town centre without scrutiny.
The Undercroft project, begun under the Lib Dem administration, is part of a joined-up approach to regenerating Kingston town centre following years of Tory austerity, Tory Council mismanagement and the Covid-19 pandemic.
This new riverside scheme is designed to attract young businesses and entrepreneurs from places like Kingston University with its top-rated business and fashion programmes, providing flexible, creative space in which to nurture new ventures.
A programme of community engagement and consultation will determine exactly how the spaces are used but will include new commercial and cultural spaces which will lead to:
- Greater engagement in riverside and local heritage
- Increased active participation in community-focused activities and cultural opportunities
- Increased use of active travel options
- More visitors in the town centre as people explore previously uninviting areas
- More people engaged in development of arts activities, volunteering and careers in the arts
- More young people engaged in community and greater support for their cultural and career ambitions
“This is part of our larger plan to reimagine Kingston Town Centre, and will make our historic town more economically resilient, enhance our local identity, build community ownership especially for our young people and help create a healthier and cleaner environment,” said Cllr Kirsch.
He added: “I am excited that we have secured the Undercroft for use by Creative Youth as a cultural hub and performance space, and look forward to seeing how they develop it in years to come.”
[Picture from the left: Mandy Weston, Founder & COO, TownSq; Jamie McGowan Community Director, Town Sq; and Lib Dem Cllr John Sweeney, Portfolio Holder for Business and Leisure at Kingston Council, outside John Lewis on Kingston Riverside]