Business without walls: We Are Pop Up speaks to James Woodward

At the beginning of October, founder of Brighton’s No Walls Gallery James Woodward listed his space on We Are Pop Up as the newly branded 114 Church Street. Within 24 hours he closed a £1,500 partnership with vintage label House of Bricks. Within one week, London entrepreneurs sent him another 182 qualified leads and the space was fully booked through to the new year. Like his gallery, a business approach of no walls and no agents means that independent brands can launch in this environment of genuinely democratic retail.

Woodward is a prime example of how creative entrepreneurs are using We Are Pop Up to grow their businesses on their own terms. We Are Pop Up spoke to James about No Walls and 114 Church Street, his personal experience with pop-ups and how he has grown his gallery into somewhere that not only encourages innovation but also demonstrates exactly how people are using digital tools in new ways to do business.

No Walls

Hi James. First of all, tell me a bit about yourself. How do you find yourself where you are today?

I’m probably best known as the founder and owner of No Walls, an independent gallery I started in 2008.  I also own the Chapel Townhouse, a unique one bedroom luxury hotel next to the 114 Church Street space that we’re launching properly in the new year. I live in Brighton with my wife Lorina and five small children – Luella, Amelie, Charles and our baby twins Arthur and Elodie. We moved down here from London six years ago.

I understand No Walls started as a pop-up gallery in London. How did it develop from a temporary site into the gallery as it is now?

No Walls started as a pop-up gallery with Ben Frost‘s first UK solo show in 2008, before anyone was really using the term “pop-up”. I’d met Ben in Sydney a few years prior and somehow convinced him into his first show outside of Australia. I rented an amazing space in the Old Truman Brewery for a week and that was the start of it all. At the time I launched No Walls, I was working for Sony Music and had planned on moving away from that and throwing myself into No Walls full-time, but it wasn’t until we moved down to Brighton that I had the opportunity to do it. Brighton is an amazing, creative city but there were no galleries showing the kind of work I was into so, towards the end of 2010, I took the plunge and threw everything into opening a permanent gallery. After a couple of years, the opportunity arose to purchase 114 Church Street, an iconic 19th century building directly opposite Brighton Dome and having always loved the building, I jumped at it. 114 Church Street has been No Walls’ home ever since.

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Do you have any other personal experience with pop-ups? What was your most memorable experience?

Like I say, at the time of that first pop-up show with Ben Frost, I was working for Sony and I hadn’t told anyone there what I was doing. I kind of knew running a start up business alongside working full-time wouldn’t go down well but I felt as though I had to do it to get No Walls off the ground. When Ben’s show was on, I took two weeks holiday and planned to keep it all quiet. This was all good until people from Sony kept coming in to see the show and I then spent half the weekend either hiding under the desk or sneaking outside.

Prior to these most recent pop-ups, the closest thing we’ve done to a pop-up in the 114 Church Street space was Lucy Sparrow’s corner shop. Particularly memorable because it was so different to anything else I’d seen or done in the gallery. Lucy had recreated the entire contents of a traditional British corner shop out of felt, some 4,000 items in total, and we transformed 114 Church Street into her corner shop in October last year. For the whole month, we had customers walking in oblivious to the fact it was all made of felt, asking for cigarettes, Rizla’s, lottery tickets, you name it. One night, we were about to go live from the gallery on BBC One, with a cameraman and presenter stood in the gallery ready to go live, and someone strolled in, straight past both of them, completely oblivious to both the fact they had a TV crew stood next to them and the fact that everything was made of felt, and asked me for two Euromillions tickets.

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Why did you decide to make the No Walls space available to pop-ups?

The decision came after we moved the exhibition after Hattie Stewart‘s recent show and were left with a hole in our schedule. 114 Church Street is such a beautiful, iconic building and the location in the centre of Brighton, halfway between the station and the pier and moments from the famous North Laine and the lanes, means it’s perfectly located for all kinds of pop-up uses. Being directly opposite the Dome and Corn Exchange also means that everyone in Brighton knows the building and I’m constantly approached about renting the space out, so I already knew there was demand for it. Rather than putting a show together at short notice, I decided to finally test the water and see which pop-ups would like to use the space. Before I knew it, enquiries and bookings were rolling in. On a personal level, I wanted to spend more time with the twins and letting pop-ups use the space should allow me to do this.

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What benefits are there inviting other businesses to use your space?

The variety of pop-ups using the space and the promotion they put into their time in the space will undoubtedly make more people aware of both the space and the gallery. By opening the space up to pop-ups, the space will soon become a real hub for creativity and entrepreneurship in Brighton and we’ll find people returning more and more frequently to see what’s on, whether it’s No Walls or a pop-up in there. Creatively, meeting and seeing other creative businesses at work is bound to throw up new opportunities and ideas.

Getting involved with We Are Pop Up has already influenced my thinking about how No Walls will operate going forwards and we’ve already been making changes.

No Walls

What was the thinking behind creating a new brand for 114 Church Street rather than simply marketing No Walls as a space for hire?

Once I decided to make the space available for pop-ups, I always thought it was important for the space to have an identity in it’s own right. This allows us to open the space up to the whole pop-up market without No Walls having to approve, or be seen to endorse, the pop-ups that use the space. Separating the space from No Walls will also give the gallery the freedom to operate wherever we like. We’ll be able to focus our efforts online and start thinking about pop-ups and projects of our own away from Brighton, whether that be elsewhere in the UK or overseas.

What made you use We Are Pop Up over a traditional agent? What does it allow you to do as a space owner?

To be honest, I didn’t even consider using a traditional agency. I saw the spaces on We Are Pop Up and knew 114 Church Street would both compliment and offer something different to the properties you already had and it was a no brainer. I also wanted the flexibility of being able to use 114 Church Street for No Walls, alongside being able to make it available to pop-ups and We Are Pop Up offered me this. The experience so far has been great and I’m in no doubt that I made the right choice.

Tell me more about how you and other creatives around you are heading online and using digital tools to grow their businesses?

Digital has always played a huge part in the gallery side of our business, whether it’s customers ordering artwork online or simply discovering the gallery on social media. In terms of the pop-up side of the business and 114 Church Street, it’s great that we can connect with so many great brands so easily via the We Are Pop Up platform. Some of the brands who have booked the space knew 114 Church Street and the gallery already, but others have connected with us having discovered the space on We Are Pop Up.

We Are Pop Up simplifies the process of renting short term space for both sides and helps brands to see their ideas come to life quicker than they ever could have done before.
So simple that a space can be viewed online and contracts agreed within minutes. In simplifying what was previously a long winded and complicated process, the We Are Pop Up platform is a valuable digital tool for us.


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