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Rent free retail units for East End businesses to thrive post COVID-19


Transformed Aberfeldy Street to lead the way on regeneration initiatives.

A new business development scheme, START HERE, is transforming Poplar’s Aberfeldy Street by giving the area a brand-new look and providing attractive opportunities for businesses looking for trading space in a post COVID-19 market. This follows the Government’s announcement that retail shops can re-open on 15th June 2020.

Retail space will be available to local businesses and organisations rent-free, for a one-year trial period with business support being offered to all businesses on the street.

The scheme has been commissioned by Aberfeldy LLP, a joint venture between EcoWorld London and Poplar HARCA, and the business development initiative is being led by High Street Works, a collaboration between Meanwhile Space CIC and Jan Kattein Architects.

The scheme started in 2019, and while physical improvement works on the street are currently on hold due to restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, at least three retail units are open to applications during this time through the scheme’s START HERE programme. Businesses or individuals local to East London are encouraged to apply, to continue to provide a diverse offer that reflects the needs of the community.

The START HERE programme gives organisations an opportunity to trial their proposition or grow their business. All spaces will be rent-free during the first year of tenancy, followed by below market rates. As an additional benefit, community group Aberfeldy Big Local are making grants of up to £5,000 available to successful candidates. Successful organisations will also have access to business advice and mentoring. So far, under the START HERE initiative, three local businesses have already signed up.

Aberfeldy Street is currently home to a mix of retail outlets, including a grocer, tailor, arts hub, a pub, and a youth boxing club. Over 2 years, High Street Works will support local businesses and encourage new ones to the area, as part of wider regeneration in Aberfeldy Village. The improvement works, include street lighting, signs, murals and street art aim to create a diverse and engaging space that the community want to use. The new murals on building frontages have been decorated with designs inspired by fabric donations from local residents.

Kirk Whitelock, Start Here Programme member commented: “Poplar is a diverse, rich community – one that I’ve been part of for 42 years. The START HERE programme has offered a great opportunity to introduce a boxing club for the kids in the area. My goal is to give the youth in Poplar an opportunity to excel in sport, dissuading them from anti-social behaviour in the streets. The high street has long been in need of somewhere for the kids to go and I’m grateful to the START HERE programme for facilitating this club.”

Emily Berwyn, Executive Director of Meanwhile Space CIC says: “Our ethos is to realise the meanwhile potential in empty spaces, and in particular to ensure those spaces provide opportunities within the communities in which they sit. With the current crisis facing us, providing these opportunities that will help to rebuild communities is more important than ever.”

Ben Ffoulkes-Jones, Project Director at EcoWorld London says: “High streets are vital spaces that bring communities together, and now more than ever it is important that we are supporting new, local businesses that are the heart and soul of the high street. The physical improvement works in Aberfeldy Street mark the start of the revitalization of the street and reflect our approach in embracing the local identity and wider community as we continue with our redevelopment plans on our project. Existing local businesses have been an important part of the improvement works so far, sharing ideas on how our local high street can evolve. We look forward to seeing a new wave of exciting ideas coming through.”

Steve Stride, Chief Executive at Poplar HARCA says: “A one year rent free period is a unique and welcome opportunity for businesses to take advantage of post COVID-19. Aberfeldy Street is at the heart of the wider regeneration of the area, and we look forward to welcoming new businesses to an already close and diverse community.”

Expressions of interest can be submitted now to