Chapter 2: Popping up everywhere

Meanwhile, in London: Making use of London’s empty spaces

Chapter 2: Popping up everywhere

This section is the first attempt to estimate the amount of meanwhile space in London. London’s meanwhile use sector has boomed in the last decade, partly thanks to the property guardianship industry, which became active in London about a decade ago and now houses up to 7,000 people in London, according to research by the University of York. 27

We surveyed all other types of meanwhile activity in London, and gathered a knowledge base of 51 active meanwhile sites, ranging from small community gardens to large workspaces. Combined, their estimated floorspace is 188,600 sqm, over two and a half times the floorspace of Selfridges and roughly the floorspace of Westfield London. 28 A full list of these sites, their use and their floorspace can be found in the supporting document on our website . Although our sample was as exhaustive as possible for this project, it records the more visible spaces. Not all meanwhile space is public facing or branded as meanwhile use: there is also a lot of meanwhile activity inside buildings that have been earmarked for redevelopment. For instance, including the Elephant and Castle shopping centre in the figures would add around 10 per cent to the total floorspace in our knowledge base.

We can safely say that most meanwhile uses in London are not quirky or public facing: they simply enable Londoners to live and work in parts of the city that they often wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. We estimate that between half and two-thirds of meanwhile space in London is occupied by live-in property guardians (representing between 175,000 sqm and 350,000 sqm depending on estimates).

This is not surprising, given housing is London’s premier need and that the property tax regime favours property guardianship over other types of meanwhile use.

Offices are likely to be the second source of meanwhile use in London; they come third in our floorspace estimates but workspaces are less public facing thus easier to have been missed out in our sample.

A large proportion of the remaining meanwhile uses are mixed use – most of them combining retail with food courts and bars. Only a small amount of meanwhile space in London is given over to one use exclusively, such as gardens, community uses, or arts and leisure opportunities.

There would be little meanwhile space other than property guardianship in London if it weren’t for local authorities and developers, who have largely driven the supply of meanwhile space in the capital: together they host two-thirds of the meanwhile projects in our knowledge base, and mostly in inner London. Other private landowners, and large public sector landowners have been slow to invest in meanwhile use, let alone open up sites to meanwhile activity, outside property guardianship.

meanwhile activity, meanwhile use

meanwhile space, meanwhile use, meanwhile activity, landowners

  • 27 London Assembly Housing Committee (2018). Protecting London’s Property Guardians. Retrieved from:
  • 28 Wikipedia. Retrieved from:,_Oxford_Street#cite_note-Heritage-1