Meanwhile and Temporary Uses

Meanwhile is the temporary use of vacant buildings or land for a socially beneficial purpose until such a time that they can be brought back into commercial use again. It makes practical use of the ‘pauses’ in property processes, giving the space over to uses that can contribute to quality of life and better places whilst the search for a commercial use is ongoing.

The idea in the UK is best articulated by the Meanwhile Project;­ ‘Meanwhile is a philosophy, a policy and a programme of work. As a philosophy Meanwhile is based on the belief that empty properties spoil town centres, destroy economic and social value, and waste resources that we cannot afford to leave idle. Vibrant interim uses led by local communities will benefit existing shops, as well as the wider town centre, through increased footfall, bringing life back to the high street and making better use of resources overall’.

The Dutch and other North-European countries are pretty useful in this area also, however given the language barriers perhaps the one other country worthy of a most honourable mention is Australia. There, the founder and director of Renew Australia - Marcus Westbury - articulates the issues and the solutions better than anyone. Check him out on - by regeneration's standards he really is a quite exceptional, passionate, inspirational and articulate speaker. 

Further details and free resources are available at and in the UK at - Meanwhile is referenced in the Government’s 'Looking after our town centres' document which is useful in convincing wary landlords that 'it's okay...'(!) as the benefits for property owners is real and genuine. 

Benefits to property owners

• Lower costs during vacant periods – During most meanwhile uses, utility bills, security and insurance costs and rates will be covered by the occupiers, providing direct savings to the owner/leaseholder. (In case studies, the landlord of the city centre property in Cambridge saved £18,000 of business rates over 6 months). 

• The security of active occupation

• Increased prospect of future commercial use – Meanwhile use often increases the level of awareness of the property to prospective tenants or owners, particularly if it provides a home for an eye-catching project. It also gives prospective tenants an easier opportunity to access the property and see its potential, while it is in use. This is particularly advantageous for retail and leisure spaces, where profile is a key issue for tenants.

How it Works

Model ‘Meanwhile Use Leases’ have been developed to simplify the process easier and to provide appropriate reassurance for landlords. Three types of standard Meanwhile Lease have been developed:

• A Meanwhile Use Lease, to be used for direct lettings by a landlord to a temporary occupier

• A Meanwhile Use Intermediary Lease, to be used for lettings by a landlord to an intermediary, such as a local authority or voluntary body (this is particularly attractive where a local authority wants to promote a variety of short term uses)

• A Meanwhile Use Sublease for lettings by an intermediary to a temporary occupier.

The leases all follow the same format and are substantially on the same terms, with the addition of the right, in the intermediary lease, for the intermediary landlord to underlet the premises. They have all been drafted to be as user friendly as possible and avoid technical legal terms. Meanwhile has received formal recognition and support from government in recognising the importance of managing vacant retail premises to maintain the attractiveness and vibrancy of town centres.

What sorts of Uses

Options for buildings range from soft touch visual interventions to make the building more interesting and attractive such as window installations to transforming the space into a public venue such as an exhibition or entertainment venue. Potential uses include:

• Visual interventions which don’t require regular use/access such as window painting, window displays and installations, changing exhibitions to be viewed from outside, projections onto windows, light installations- ie daytime and night-time animation.

• License agreements with a meanwhile users with no public access such as workshop space, studio space, office/work space, rehearsal space, storage.

• License agreements for projects which generate public access making the building more fully active such as exhibition/gallery space, events space, pop up cinema, bar/cafe/restaurant, space used as venue for local festivals, pop up shop/indoor market

Agreements can range in time scale for use of a space for a day for example for a special one off event to agreements which are periodically renewed and extended over a number of years.