Pop Brixton is a community initiative founded by Make Shift, a pioneering platform that seeks to drive progress through local enterprises. Make Shift are a team of socially-minded makers, creators and entrepreneurs who strive to bring prosperity to the local community of Brixton through enterprises. We spoke to Philippe Castaing, co-founder of Make Shift and pioneer of the Pop Brixton community project.
“Cities perform better when people work together — when you have a cobbler next to a fishmonger, next to an accountant, and so on. The question is: how do you bring them together?”Philippe Castaign
In partnership with Lambeth Council, Make Shift transformed a disused plot of land in Brixton into a community space that showcases the most exciting independent businesses from the district. Pop Brixton provides a new destination for the neighbourhood, supporting locals to set up shop and to share space, ideas and skills. The Pop Brixton initiative supports local jobs and enterprise by providing the space that these businesses need to thrive and ultimately strives to create a positive impact in the overall community. “The problem with the last few decades of regeneration and urban transformation has been the silo mentality that has created a huge social divide within the communities,” says Philippe. “And now people don’t know how to live together. The motivation behind Pop Brixton was to help people to learn how to understand each other and together as a community.”
Pop Brixton is currently home to 55 independent businesses including restaurants, retailers, makers, street food traders, designers, tech startups, a community barbershop, a youth radio station, and a number of social enterprises. Philippe emphasises how hard it was at the beginning with little resources and a small team. “It was a crazy moment. I told everyone: believe me, we’ll have half a million visitors the first year. We actually had 750,000, and an average of 1-1.2 million a year since.”
The social impact of the project focused on creating a source of income for the local people. Philippe wanted to empower the community by providing them with a platform to earn wages — either through employment or through setting up their businesses at Pop Brixton. “The purpose of the site, really, the social impact of it is to create jobs, to provide the opportunity to start a business, and to become a platform where local talent can learn how to take a market stall to a fully-fledged restaurant, where people can come and grow their skills and then move on.”
Pop Brixton has become a mini centre of culture, enterprise and community. It has transformed an underused space into a hive of activity by bringing affordable work and leisure spaces together. Built from low-cost, low-energy, shipping containers, the aim of the project was to create a flexible space where things were really possible. In the words of Philippe, “come, learn and grow.”