Dan Thompson - author of Pop Up Business For Dummies

Rewind to the London riots. Remember all those people waving brooms? They’d seen the tweet, #riotcleanup. Who started it?

Dan Thompson - artist, writer and now author of a book that wants us to sweep aside recession depression by using our empty shops: Pop Up Business For Dummies.

In 2012, Time Out named Dan as one of the most inspiring people in the UK’s creative industries. He also runs the Empty Shops Network.

I’m a dummy. What’s a pop-up business?

Any business that opens for a short, set period of time. We’ve seen lots of pop-ups: things like pop-up cinema and pop-up community centres.

Pop ups are new, right?

No. It’s always happened. The earliest example I found was that Shakespeare opened his first theatre in the gatehouse of an old monastery that wasn’t being used.

So why am I only hearing about them now?

It’s easier to pop up now than it ever has been because there are more empty spaces.

Do I need a business degree and thousands of pounds?

No. Pop-ups can be affordable and very simple. That’s the joy of them. You can take a short licence to occupy the premises and a short-term lease. Go in, test it, try it.

The Government is giving lots of money to towns for this. There are currently 400 towns with money to do stuff. So there are grants for funding available.

If I fail, I won’t lose a lot?

Absolutely. It’s good to fail, actually. It’s only by failing that we can go and do it better the next time. [Irish playwright] Samuel Beckett said, “Try again, fail again, fail better,” and he’s spot on.

A lot of pop ups are recycling furniture, remaking old clothes, or running workshops to help people recycle and reinvent.

Dan Thompson

Good for my pocket and the planet?

It is. We’re practically recycling buildings. A lot of pop ups are recycling furniture, remaking old clothes, or running workshops to help people recycle and reinvent. Let’s not knock down and rebuild. Let’s reuse what we’ve got.

So what have you got to do with all this?

I started recycling empty shops about 12 years ago, with Revolutionary Arts. Our first one was a baker’s. I’ve helped other people do it. As a consequence, I’ve just written, Pop Up Business for Dummies: A book that makes it easier for people that want to open a pop-up.

Where can I get this book from?

From an independent local bookshop. They should be your first point of call. [If you can't find it locally, buy from The Book Depository and Friends of the Earth gets a donation from your order].

What’s the quirkiest pop up you’ve ever done?

There are lots of good ones, but my favourite was setting up a play space for school children. We filled an old carpet showroom with things for children to do. The best bit was a giant bumper car circuit. We actually had bumper cars in an empty shop.

So community plays a big part?

The social space is the most important bit. Shops didn’t used to be just about selling. They used to be part of the community. If you open a pop up, people will come through the door and want to know what’s going on. They’ll tell you stories about what used to be in the shop.

Most of my ideas die at the first fence. Any tips?

Talk to people. Don’t hog ideas. A number of projects have been started because somebody said on Facebook, “I’m really fed up with empty shops in our town. I wish I could do something.”

The most misguided motivation would be that you’re going to make yourself very rich, very quickly. It’s about testing things - starting small and working your way up.

Can you reveal your latest project?

Yes. We’re working with up to 30 young people, aged 16 to 25. We’re training them in the skills they need to run a business - and then supporting them as they open a pop-up shop for a month at the end of it.

Do you have a message for our supporters?

Do it. We’ve spent far too long worrying if we’re allowed to do things - moaning that we wish ‘someone’ would do this thing that needs doing. If something’s important, go out there and do it yourself. It’s nobody’s responsibility but yours.

Interview by Phillp Byrne, Publishing & New Media

Our local groups have run a variety of pop-up stalls over the years. Why not get involved?