FIELD was a temporary co-working incubator space for local entrepreneurs located in part of the site of the Preston Barracks redevelopment in Brighton. The developers U+I Plc ran the initiative and the intention was to use it to explore what Brighton & Hove’s entrepreneurial community needed from a potential permanent facility, which is part of the proposed redevelopment of Preston Barracks.
The current plans for the redevelopment of the Preston Barracks site started in July 2014. This £150 million scheme is part of a wider regeneration project involving neighbouring University land, which aims to transform four hectares of land located to the north of Brighton along Lewis Road - a main artery running into the city centre.
In 2014 the council exchanged contracts with the University of Brighton and developers U+I PlC. The partners then developed detailed plans in a process that included a number of public consultation events. In September 2017 planning consent was granted.
"The regeneration will ultimately deliver a mixed use quarter with homes and student accommodation, university and business space, and shops and cafes, spread across some 4 hectares. But the process of regeneration and transformation began... [in 2015], with meanwhile use of Preston Barracks." (2)
As it would take several years to develop the plans and get planning permission for the final development, the developers decided it would be worth finding a way to use the derelict Barracks site in the meantime to start activating the site and exploring the possibilities for its future.
As Sarah Chitty, Development Manager at U+I explains in an interview with Placemaking Resource,
"We wanted to find a worthwhile use for the space that would generate genuine value for the local community while we secured planning permission for the final development, so we entered into a lease agreement with the council in 2015...We also wanted to do something intelligent, which would inform and add value to one of the future buildings that would make up part of the final Masterplan proposals." (2)
The derelict former rifle range building at Preston Barracks was rapidly converted into a community space called FIELD House with workshops, a cafe and a shared events space. The co-working space focused on incubating local entrepreneurs, as there were plans for a permanent 4,600 square metre accelerator/incubator space for start-ups and SMEs within the development.
According to the FIELD website (1), the project had two central aims:
To empower entrepreneurial makers, inventors, engineers and product designers with the use of a diverse work space
To unite like-minded people, organisations and businesses to create a community that thrives on the free exchange of ideas between creative innovators and inventors.
Chitty describes the project as a, "workplace experiment, setting out to answer the question of what a future employment space looks like in Brighton, and how we could design a building at Preston Barracks that would be successful in the future". (2)
Eight Brighton start-ups and four local initiatives were hosted in the workshop space rent-free. Applicants were selected based on their use of innovation in design. Each entrepreneur was given a small amount of seed funding to kick-start their business and was supported with development advice. FIELD also provided a home for established local initiatives such the Old Tree botanical brewery. The common area also became a venue for locally led events such as up cycling workshops, community action team meetings and social events.
One of the groups hosted in the space was Community 21 - a collaborative practice initiated by the University of Brighton to get people engaged in community and neighbourhood planning, using fun and accessible tools and technology. They created the Placemaker Space at FIELD where they held workshops to bring planning toolkits to the community.
FIELD is funded by Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership.
The permanent incubator space in the development is being delivered by U+I with £7.7 million backing, also from the Coast to Capital LEP.
Start-up and local initiatives using the space for their work and for events helped build an understanding of how the site could be used in the future. The space helped to inform developments on the site and was used by a diverse range of people from different parts of the city, civic and local authority and governmental groups with interest in sustainable development and public participation.
FIELD House was always intended to be a temporary space and closed prior to construction beginning. The initiative is estimated to have had the following local impacts:
2,500-plus people attended at events and activities organised at FIELD
An earnings increase for local businesses, ranging from 10-500 per cent
500 tonnes of wood diverted from the local waste stream
50-plus volunteering and work experience opportunities provided
300 unwanted bikes received from the local community for recycling
The entrepreneurs formed such a strong community that they have moved to new premises together, forming their own limited company, Leftfield, to spread the approach to others. Their new warehouse premises allows them to double their own workspace and, via Leftfield, sub-let space to more budding entrepreneurs.
What are the risks and challenges for initiating and also maintaining this initiative?
The challenge of this sort of space can be finding the right people to occupy the space and balancing the need for flexibility with business and safety imperative.
There is also a reputational risk when a meanwhile space inevitably closes when development starts.
This example shows the potential of meanwhile spaces to activate a space and bring new uses on site before development begins. It demonstrates how meanwhile use can generate specific lessons for development when the meanwhile use aligns with the future permanent use - in this case incubator space.