Interview: Robert Howie-Smith – a study in regeneration and community

Robert Howie-Smith runs The Howie Smith Project (THSP) – a PHD study in regeneration and community.

His latest project is Sixty8 Humberstone Gate in Leicester, the first floor and basement of which is used by The Echo Factory.

To the rear of the building The Howie Smith Project (THSP) is making available eight creative spaces; affordable office/studios suitable for creative enterprise, start-up business and artist studios. talked to Robert about his work and how and why he is regenerating creative spaces throughout the East Midlands.

Can you give me some background on how you’ve reached this stage?
The refurbishment and creation of the project is a collaboration by the owners Bildurn, who funded the first stage of re-development, Leicester City Council which contributed to the second stage of development with a grant made to THSP, while The Howie Smith Project and The Echo Factory funded the final stages. I project-managed stages 1 and 2 and worked with Ajay Naik owner of The Echo Factory to deliver stage 3 and 4.

What criteria do you look for when acquiring buildings?
I always try to target long-term derelict and unused buildings. A building most people have ignored and no obvious solution to bring back online is present or apparent.

Robert Howie-Smith

Robert Howie-Smith

How did you first come across the building for Sixty8 Humberstone Gate?
I have had access to the building for several years making it available for use by the creative community. Since 2009 the site has twice opened as gallery and event spaces, managed by several people and groups from the arts community, though none offered a long-term sustainable solution to warrant serious investment.

What has been the timeline of the development? And what will it offer?
The project has taken just over a year to deliver and be open. The user of the ground floor, first floor and basement is The Echo Factory. To the rear of the building The Howie Smith Project (THSP) is making available 8 Creative Spaces; affordable office/studios suitable for creative enterprise, start-up business and artist studios.

How do you go about finding organisations to run schemes like the Echo Factory?
By networking in the local community, I was introduced to Ajay through a mutual colleague. Ajay was looking to expand on his independent college (then called BCME) and needed larger, better premises to do so, allowing him to get university status and offer degree level courses, and improve on the facilities and education courses he could offer.

What is the over-riding ethos behind what you do?
That is varied, but primarily the project supports practical solutions to long term dereliction alongside a PhD research study of urban regeneration and the creative community, through The University of Birmingham Department of Geography. I seek to ensure a stock of affordable spaces for creative use in a city’s regeneration process.

And what’s next for you?
Obviously try and finish the PhD! I will be marketing the Creative Spaces in Sixty8 Humberstone Gate in Leicester, which are now available, and I am continually marketing the DeskSpace project in Smithy Row in Nottingham – rent your desk for £60 per month in a multi-share office space.

I am currently partnering with Chris Manze from The Stone Soup Academy on the development of Richmond House in Nottingham, exploring further the aspect of education and training through the arts, and am working with the landlords of The Corner in Nottingham to develop a long-term solution to the ground floor space.

I am starting a project in Southwell in the new year that will support creativity in rural areas, and am considering a small shop unit in Nottingham that has been boarded forever, so if anyone is looking for a shop, let me know. That should keep me busy next year – after that, I have no idea.