London has hundreds, and possibly thousands, of empty structures awaiting planning permission, final fit-out or just biding their time until the local residential, hotel, retail or office property markets reawaken and their square footage is most profitably in demand.
This last point is particularly salient at the moment; Capital Economics recently warned that commercial property values are due to fall between five and nine percent if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
And a recent report into planning appeals found that the average time taken for them to be completed is 47 weeks.
But while sites may be held up by planning, mothballed, or are waiting the next stage of their development, London’s huge corporate events and fast-growing ‘experiential’ industry is desperate for space.
Organisers often struggle to find the kind of flexible and unique spaces they need to book fashion shows, glossy magazine shoots, pop-up bars or restaurants, temporary clubs, corporate jollies, industry conferences, and exhibitions – the list is endless.
It’s a gap in the market that events professionals Ben Gamble and Stuart Groves, founders five-year-old agency Shout About, have spotted.
This week they officially launched their new service to help both landlords and event organisers solve these two problems.
It offers property developers, landlords and house builders the opportunity to make extra income from licencing their properties for unusual events.
This sector is a significant part of the London economy. According to one recent report the events and experiential sector is worth £39 billion to the UK economy each year, and it’s growing.
Both consumers and corporates are increasingly keen to find ever more unique experiences to discover and take part in whether it’s after-work role playing, staff gatherings, industry events, mini festivals, niche interest exhibitions, promotional stunts or film premieres.
And part of the sector’s success is the ability to find unusual locations that have not been used or visited before.
“Events clients always want to be the first to do an event in a new venue, because it’s all about it being a unique location and creating a draw,” says Ben. “Everyone’s been everywhere these days, especially in London.”
The idea came to Ben and Stuart after they started doing one-off events for specific clients at locations where the landlord had agreed to rent out their space including a disused print factory in Brighton and a disused railway station in Manchester.
The pair then realised a better model would be to rent unused commercial spaces for longer periods off developers or landlords and then go out to the market with them, and brought an investor on board to help fund it.
The concept is more sophisticated than it sounds. Although Shout About offers developers a revenue share or other commercial arrangements via, on average, an 18-month licence at a site, it offers less obvious benefits too.
“This can be good for promotion particularly if a site is going to be a residential development, as the people going to the event can be prospective buyers,” says Ben.
“But our events also get loads of press coverage so we weave the site’s future use into the PR if, for example, it’s going to be a restaurant or club,” says Ben.
Shout About says its focus is to organise everything and minimise disruption for the landlord including gaining any relevant licences and insurance for a site, and due diligence including risk assessments and fire safety.
One problem with the agency’s idea is that there is no shortage of UK websites where property owners can list their assets including Hirespace, VenueScanner and Headbox. So why use Shout About?
“When you’re listed alongside hundreds of other properties you are unlikely to get the higher revenue returns, whereas we work very selectively with landlords who we can build a relationship with and we’re a lot more targeted, marrying our event partners with the ideal location,” says Ben.
The company has today announced its first site on Sun Street near Liverpool Street station.
It’s currently undergoing development and the site offers 30,000 square foot of untapped event space, comprising six interlinking former townhouses arranged over five floors.
The site will eventually become a five-star boutique hotel but there’s a ten-month gap between the building work being finished and the final fit-out being completed.
“We’ve got an events client lined up to take the space for eight months of the ten,” says Ben. “We find it’s easier to get one longer-term client to take a space like that than lots of one-off events.”
Ben won’t say who the client is yet, but says the kind of events that take sites like this one include competitive socialising companies such as Crystal Maze and Lunar Cinema.
But its events aren’t always so glamorous; one of the company’s clients is London Shipping Week.
Ben says his company has another three sites about to join once the licences are signed including one in Brighton, and says it hopes to nail down ten sites by the end of the year.
“Once we’ve established a good central pool of properties, then hopefully we can look at securing our own properties on say a 20-year-lease so that we’ve got a back-up venue for when demand outstrips supply,” says Ben.
Interested landlords and developers should contact Ben or Stuart via the Shout About website.