The organisation has handled 35 leases during its first year, having placed fashion designers, a theatre collective, visual artists and poets in ghost units up and down the country. 

Working from a former newsagents, Paul Hawkins is creating a visual poetry exhibition in Bristol. A space in Penrith is being used by upcycling fashion designer Molly Sellars, urban landscape painter Ceri Allen and 3D collage artist Christine Lowthian. Artist Dion Kitson has taken over a shop in Dudley to make and show new work.

Nicola Blake, a director for a group of private property companies that has 300 shops, has filled a former café – “now an art gallery, influenced by the artist who was in it” – as well as a butcher unit, a candle shop and a children’s shoe shop. 

“Where we have the odd empty unit we try to innovate,” she says. “For us it’s been brilliant because the lights are not on and there is activity in the unit.” 

Blake, who is on Hypha Studios’ advisory committee, adds: “The benefit of the rate relief is obvious, but it’s not the main reason we did it. There are other ways to achieve that – you can put a box in an empty unit [and get relief]. 

“It’s wonderful we can support them and offer them studios and a place to display their work and develop a project within the community.”

Another landlord says the tie-up was a “win-win” during the height of the pandemic, and the move “brought a new audience to the area”.

But the model is not without its challenges. Hypha relies on public grants, voluntary support and private donations to fund its operations. And while artists get free space, they largely are responsible for their own earnings. 

Skipp, a documentary photographer who captured communities in Calais and Chernobyl, was initially meant to occupy the space for 45 days but has the option to stay for up to a year. Other prospective tenants are still lacking. For him, this could prove tricky. 

“If I was funded, the potential for [this] project would be tremendous,” he says. “I’m emotionally invested in it. The area is on the brink of social change. I’d [now] do it for a shorter, more intense period of time.”

One industry rival says that having the ability to make money to support the day-to-day running of the business is crucial in the art world, which is littered with now defunct startups. 

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