Across London, the pressure on affordable space, especially workspace, is growing. A project aimed at maximising the value of physical spaces led to the launch of Open Poplar in 2015.

First, the local area is mapped to understand the spaces that exist, such as garages untouched for years, or a community centre not operating at full capacity. The spaces are advertised on the Open Poplar website and are available to all, but local people or ideas that benefit the local community take priority. Applicants submit an outline business plan that is assessed for viability and community benefits, then we work with the applicant to make the ideas come to fruition.

The process turns liabilities into assets. Spaces that once attracted anti-social behaviour, incurred business rates and maintenance costs or were boarded up and ‘unloved’ can now attract investment and funding, reduce costs and enliven multi-use areas. This helps put Poplar on the map as a place of confidence and opportunity, encouraging a strong local, mixed economy and attracting new visitors.

The £67k annual income from the spaces, which rises each year, plus the thousands we save in maintenance and tax liabilities is ploughed back into homes, services and opportunities for our community.

Examples include:

  • Arbeit Studios – transforming an unused basement into affordable studio space for local artists, designers, small businesses and start-ups, alongside business support, and event/gallery space.
  • Tommy Flowers – the Tommy Flowers community pub is used as an arts/community space in the daytime, and a pub in the evening.
  • A Door in a Wall – an immersive theatre company created, a bespoke production for Poplar.  The 36 shows attracted 2,600 people and utilised 31 game locations across the area.
  • Poplar Works – our ground-breaking £6m Poplar Works project, in partnership with London College of Fashion, UAL and part-funded by the Mayor of London.  It will bring fashion back home to East London, and create 85 local jobs and 185 training, apprenticeship and mentoring opportunities within two years.
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Recognised by 2 national housing awards

40 businesses supported

Over £430k invested into Poplar from partners

"I’ve lived in Poplar all my life and have been photographing for 16 years. Accents has democratised space previously inaccessible, adding colour and life. For my Transitions Photography Project, that meant a really well attended exhibition in the heart of the high street."

Michael Mulcahy, Photographer and Poplar resident