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In 2021, Union of Kingston Students, in partnership with Kingston University's Studio KT1, opened a brand new, multi-purpose space based on an innovative concept designed to showcase student talent and enterprise in the heart of Kingston. The project has successfully given University students, alumni and local creatives a platform to connect with the community and sell and exhibit their work.
The project involved a collaborative team from Kingston School of Art's (KSA) creative agency, Studio KT1, and The Union of Kingston Students (UKS). They submitted a joint bid to the Mayor of London's ‘Make London' Fund to crowdfund for the Creative Meanwhile project, with the aim of opening a hub for the Kingston community consisting of part exhibition, gallery, workspace and shop. This was hugely successful with a total of £70,000 raised. At the same time, Studio KT1 had nurtured a relationship with local developer Viewranks who offered them a vacant space in the centre of Kingston.
To bring the project to life, a multitude of skills, expertise and resources from talented staff and students were combined. Chelsea Baker-Tull and Grace Richards from the Union of Kingston Students and Claire Selby from KSA developed the bid and led on the management of the project.
Students contributed by helping to bring the concept to market and came up with the name 'Not My Beautiful House', inspired by a Talking Heads lyric. They developed a brand identity for the space, in preparation for marketing and selecting vendors. They also designed and constructed display systems and furniture. Overall, 40 students, from a wide range of disciplines, were involved in getting the space ready, with just a four-week turn-around, from vacant unit to fully-functioning gallery, shop and exhibition space.
‘Not My Beautiful House' opened to the public in May 2021 in a vacant unit on Fife Road, close to Kingston's busy train station in the centre of the town. The shop has enjoyed a steady stream of visitors, over 19,000 in total up to January 2022, with a quarter of this footfall achieved in December alone.
Each customer buys on average two items per visit with bestselling items including fashion, art, prints and University merchandise. Sellers are a diverse group, around 60% are Kingston University students and alumni, with the rest made up of local creatives. A website was also launched which has had 38,601 visitors to date.
The project has featured on BBC Radio London, as well as in podcasts, news articles and interviews.
The project has been hailed as a 'trailblazer' by Kingston Borough Council and Kingston First, the business improvement district. It has set a precedent for turning vacant town centre space into a thriving community hub, and made a huge impact on the footfall of Fife Road.
University students have benefited by having access to valuable exhibition space and the opportunity to sell their work, and working in and running the space, leading to enhanced commercial awareness and enterprise skills.
The space has been a game-changer for the Student Union, providing a new stream of income, enabling them to easily access and help nurture student creativity and talent, and raising awareness of their brand and reputation within the local community. The Union now has a flourishing community hub to engage with students, alumni and local creatives.
The space is open to the general public with exhibitions and events put on for free and open to all. Anyone in Kingston and the surrounding areas can apply to sell their products or exhibit their work.
Many aspiring artists and makers have benefited by selling their work from Not My Beautiful House and are making significant income.
NMBH occupancy has been extended twice by the landlord. Additional funding will hopefully be secured to extend the occupancy (in either Fife Road or an alternative vacant unit) once again through to May 2022 and potentially beyond, ensuring that this valuable space for developing creative local talent can be enjoyed for as long as possible.