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With the future of the high street retail uncertain, and town centres needing to adapt, Kingston upon Thames needed a cross-sector, forward-thinking blue print to support diversification and a mix of uses in the town centre into the future. These strategic challenges were exacerbated by the pandemic, further highlighting the need for action.
Making use of the creative and design expertise of its students, Kingston University played a leading role in delivering and commissioning "Re-imagining Kingston Town Centre's Streets & Spaces", a public realm strategy with community and business engagement, and co-creation at its heart.
The project, delivered in partnership with Kingston First, the Greater London Authority, and Kingston Council, set out transformational and tactical project ideas to inspire change and coordinate investment in the town centre. Rather than be a strategy that, once published, sat on a shelf, a central aim of the project was to inspire a range of ideas across the community, and help foster greater collaboration with the University's student community.
Since its publication in late 2019, the strategy has been adopted by Kingston Council as policy. It is used by the town planners for developer contributions and serves as an evidence base for future funding opportunities. Kingston School of Art, along with community groups, is delivering the blueprint and bringing projects to life, and creative skill sets have been fundamental to the success of this.
Kingston has been successful in receiving nearly £1m of funding to transform a vacant undercroft, adjacent to Kingston's historic bridge, into a "Factory of the Futures". This will provide much-needed space for the creative industries and opportunities for young people, creating new reasons to visit the town centre.
Furthermore, the Union of Kingston Students, in partnership with Studio KT1, Kingston School of Art's Creative Agency, and with funding from the GLA and Kingston Council, is opening "Not My Beautiful House", a creative meanwhile use in the town centre. The initiative will support local businesses, the community, students and graduates. It will provide opportunities for those without access to materials, support, or technology, such as people not in education, training or employment, encouraging collaboration and talent.
Kingston First has kickstarted consultations to enhance two open public spaces, and have commissioned Kingston School or Art students to dress vacant units through bespoke "Kingston Canvas" art commissions.