Not My Beautiful House, Kingston

Image by Sophia Nasif.

How a student union and an art school worked together to launch a creative community hub, exhibition space, workplace, and retail shop in the centre of Kingston town centre – in the middle of a pandemic.

In May 2021, the Union of Kingston Students (UKS), in collaboration with Kingston University’s creative agency Studio KT1, opened a brand new, multi-purpose space in a former PC World/Curry’s on Fife Road in the heart of Kingston. Branded ‘Not My Beautiful House’ after a lyric in a famous Talking Heads song, the site was designed to showcase student creativity, talent, and enterprise, while also creating a platform for collaboration between students, alumni, and local artists. Eighteen months in, Not My Beautiful House has become a success story of student-led high street regeneration.

How it all came together

The story begins in December 2020, when local developer Viewranks Estates approached Studio KT1 with a tempting offer: to take over a vacant space in the centre of Kingston, rent-free, for a four-month period. The space, located on the ground floor of a building marked for redevelopment, had previously been occupied by a commercial tenant and was now looking for a temporary use. 

Around the same time, the Mayor of London issued a call for submissions for ‘Make London’ funding, a programme set up to help local communities recover from the COVID-19 crisis. Claire Selby, Innovation Partnerships Manager at Studio KT1, along with Chelsea Baker-Tull and Grace Richards from the Union of Kingston Students (UKS), worked in partnership to submit a bid for a ‘Creative Meanwhile Space’. By March 2021, they had successfully raised £70,000 for a new public community hub with exhibition, gallery and work space, as well as a shop. By having a space to activate and the necessary funding to make it happen, the project was off the ground.

From idea to implementation

Studio KT1 is a creative agency powered by Kingston School of Art and part of Kingston University. The Union of Kingston Students (UKS) is a student-led organisation that represents and provides services to close to 15,000 young people enrolled with the university. Between these two units, more than 40 students from a wide range of disciplines collaborated on making the project a reality, moving from concept to implementation in just four weeks. The students were also supported by tutors from relevant university courses, from the Creative and Cultural Industries department to the Business School.

Not My My Beautiful House opened on Fife Road in May 2021 with a fully fitted space and a custom brand identity, complete with marketing material, display systems, furniture, and a rota of vendors.

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Not My Beautiful House on Fife Road. Image by Sophia Nasif.

The project was soon hailed as a ‘trailblazer’ by Kingston Borough Council and Kingston First, the business improvement district. At a time when many town centres were grappling with how to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on local social and economic life, Not My Beautiful House set a precedent for turning vacant high street property into thriving community space.

Though the initial agreement with Viewranks Estates was for a four-month tenancy, the success of Not My Beautiful House led to continuous extensions of these terms. Then, in March 2022, the Royal Borough of Kingston put forward a potential new venue: a council-owned property also in the town centre known as the ‘Ancient Market House’. This is where Not My Beautiful House can now be found until at least November 26, 2022.

Since moving to this rather grand venue, the scale and success of the initiative has grown exponentially. Over the summer, the number of sellers has doubled, footfall has increased by 200%, and sales have followed. So far, ‘Not My Beautiful House’ has hosted more than 200 sellers, 100 events, 50 exhibitions, and 20 workshops for both children and adults. In addition to the 40 students who were involved in the project’s initial conception, more than 250 artists have come onboard. The space is open to the general public on a daily basis, with free activities for all and plenty of opportunities for local artists to sell and exhibit their work.

Key benefits

For Studio KT1, Not My Beautiful House has become the ultimate live project and an ongoing opportunity for students to learn how to make a business from their creative skills. The students who were involved in the initial design of the space and concept have gained confidence from seeing their ideas realised in the real world, as well as valuable references for their portfolios.

The space has also been a game-changer for UKS, providing a site for community engagement, a place to nurture student creativity, and a steady income stream. Together, these assets have strengthened the student union’s capacity to reach students, alumni, and members of the local community.

Over the past 18 months, students, graduates, and creatives from across Kingston have been able to benefit from the unique opportunities that My Beautiful House present, namely access to valuable exhibition space and experience in business management in the creative industries. Aspiring artists and makers have also been able to sell their work from the space, and many have gone on to build profitable enterprises. At a time of general economic uncertainty, Not My Beautiful House has become a space of opportunity.

Lessons learned

  1. Build the relationships first. In this project, we brought together the council, business improvement district, landlords, community groups, audience, and developers.
  2. Keep your ear to the ground. Find out what’s going on in the area you want to be in. If there is a BID (Business Improvement District) or a high street regeneration team that aligns with your mission, you won’t have to work alone.
  3. Engage with everyone and be welcoming to all. Our approach was to try to say ‘yes’ to everything within reason, and mostly to everyone’s benefit!
  4. Get the community and young people involved. Find out what spaces your target audience would like to work in, exhibit in, socialise in… If you built what they need, they will come.
  5. Remain as agile and flexible as possible. We’re still adapting every day. At the moment, we still don’t know where we will be after November 26, but we’re ready to grasp any opportunity that comes our way.

Project details

Budget: £70,000

£30,000 from the Mayor of London, £27,000 from the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. See details on the Spacehive fundraising website.

Financing model: Majority crowdfunded plus UKS have invested over £35,000 and 50% staff time of the Business Development Team of 6, along with £20,500 investment and 50% staff time from Studio KT1, Kingston University.

Timeline: January 2021 and ongoing.

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Inside the Fife Road Venue. Image by Sophia Nasif.

About the photographer:

Sophia Nasif is a multimedia artist and visual storyteller based in South London. Alongside a BA (Hons) in Illustration & Animation from Kingston School of Art, she has a strong background in photography and filmmaking, and is currently studying an MA in Photojournalism & Documentary Practice at the University of the Arts London. Sophia has been a Not My Beautiful House seller, staff member and is the first we call for our house photography.


  • Claire Selby, Studio KT1 Kingston University
  • Grace Richards, Union of Kingston Students

Key stakeholders

  • Union of Kingston Students
  • Studio KT1 at Kingston School of Art, Kingston University
  • Royal Borough of Kingston Council
  • Viewranks Estates


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