Image for The entrepreneurs challenging ‘copy and paste’ high streets

The entrepreneurs challenging ‘copy and paste’ high streets

Homogenous chains and empty shops dominate many high streets. A new model offers an alternative vision, one led by artists, makers and small businesses

Homogenous chains and empty shops dominate many high streets. A new model offers an alternative vision, one led by artists, makers and small businesses

Her mission is to link artists, creative entrepreneurs and independent businesses with affordable pop-up spaces in high-footfall locations. Meet Tillie Peel, founder of the Pop-Up Club, a movement that is helping to revive UK high streets.

So, the Pop-Up Club. Why did you start it? 

We were tired of seeing ‘copy and paste’ high streets and empty shops that simply weren’t accessible for small businesses. 

Starting off small in 2017, we worked with the council to organise a monthly makers market on our local high street, and secured our first pop-up shop in the local shopping centre. 

I found that by joining forces with other small businesses, we were able to remove the risk and make it more affordable for independent, creative and sustainable brands to have a bricks-and-mortar presence, allowing them to showcase their products. 

What’s your model? 

Our pop-up shops vary in terms of duration, but are typically a minimum of six weeks. Some of our more successful pop-ups have been extended: for example, our shop in Chelmsford was open for nearly two years. Landlords also benefit from our model, by activating empty units with an interesting and footfall-driving concept. 

How has the idea grown in the past five years?

Through demand from customers and traders, we decided to take the concept to other areas. 

We’ve grown from strength to strength – 2021 was our biggest year yet. We opened in eight locations, including London, Manchester, Brighton and Kent, and worked with leading shopping centres Westfield and Bluewater. Through our pop-up shops alone, we generated over half a million in income for the small businesses we worked with in 2021. 

The Pop-up Club has rolled its concept out to cities across the UK. Image: Hiral Jethwa Photography

How do you choose where to work? 

We look for areas where we can make a real impact – by injecting new life into high streets or into prime locations such as shopping centres, which have high footfall (and often big brands) but little space for independents. 

What do high streets stand to gain when you come to town?

The pop-up model allows more flexibility, reduces the risk for us and our traders, and offers opportunities to innovate. We’re able to trial different locations and can network with, and support, more small local businesses. This keeps our pop-up events exciting and fresh. 

The movement to shop small and sustainably continues to grow. High streets are crying out for more creative, unique and sustainable alternatives – and we offer just that.

Main image: Hiral Jethwa Photography 

This article is the latest in our ‘reinventing the high street’ series. In recent weeks, Positive News has been shining a light on the people, places and projects that are breathing new life into the UK’s town and city centres as many retail giants abandon them. 

Help us continue to break the bad news bias

Positive News is helping more people than ever to get a balanced view of the world – one that supports their wellbeing and empowers them to make a difference towards a better future. And as our audience and impact grows, we’re showing the rest of the media that good news matters.

But the UK’s cost of living crisis is hitting us hard, with fewer people able to commit to a magazine subscription – which has traditionally been our main source of funding. Plus, paper and printing costs keep rising.

We don’t want to put a paywall on our website, because we believe everyone should have the chance to benefit from good news. But we won’t be able to continue funding our online reporting without your help.

If you value what we do and can afford to, please consider making a small, regular contribution as a Positive News supporter. We need 1,000 readers to contribute just £3 per month to get us through this challenging time.

And remember, as a not-for-profit, we work only in service to you, and all funds go towards our journalism.


Related articles

This is part of our ‘Reinventing the high street’ series: