Selkirk Pop Up Shops

Selkirk Pop Up Shops is an initiative of Selkirk Chamber of Trade and Commerce. Here you can find out about the project's aims and activities and their top tips for others thinking about a similar initiative.

What is it?

In and around Selkirk there is a huge range of arts, crafts and food produce being made, but very little of this is for sale in the town. Pop up shops, along with a range of other initiatives and investments in Selkirk, aim to help shape the town centre of the future, by presenting authentic experiences connected with local food, craft, art, history and heritage

The overall aims of Selkirk Pop Up Shops were to:

  • Promote a feeling of community and pride in Selkirk’s High Street
  • To inject variety and interest that both encourages residents to shop locally, and is attractive to visitors
  • Create a town centre which is alive with changing retail experiences, exhibitions, activities and workshops

Pop ups have been around for a long time, in one form or another: the development of high streets came about because markets, the original pop ups, became permanent fixtures in town centres. A pop up opens for a defined period of time, with a clear start and end date.

Pop ups can be a great way to do business as they offer opportunities to:

  • Give an internet-based business a boost with a (temporary) high street presence
  • ‘Test’ an established business in a new location and/ or retail sales
  • Reach a different market
  • Provide a seasonal sale, exhibition or event
  • Undertake market research, and test new ideas, products or services
  • Provide an additional or alternative way to launch a new product
  • Hold special events to increase customer loyalty

The Project offered pop up tenants the following:

  • Short-term access to High Street retail premises
  • Liaison with landlords
  • Advice regarding legalities including Licence to Occupy, insurance
  • Marketing support
  • Retailing advice

Where is it?

In the Royal and Ancient Burgh of Selkirk, in the heart of the Scottish Borders (Edinburgh 47 miles, Berwick-upon-Tweed 42 miles, Carlisle 54 miles). With a population of 5,784 at the last count (2011), Selkirk is also an important hub for people living and working in the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys (population 905). Selkirk is bi-sected by the busy A7 (which is both a positive and a negative for the town), six miles from Galashiels and 12 miles from Hawick, both of which have large supermarkets. Leakage of retail spend is high (60 percent of food and drink spend and 80 percent of comparison goods). This spend ‘leaks’ to neighbouring towns, particularly Galashiels or via the Internet. Selkirk has a high level of commercial vacancies/ empty properties, currently at 16 percent and increasing since 2007.

Who’s involved?

Selkirk Pop Up Shops is an initiative of Selkirk Chamber of Trade and Commerce. The Steering Group comprises Will Haegleand (Chair), Viv Ross, Stuart Davidson and Lawrence Robertson. The Steering Group has an excellent range of expertise and experience, from hospitality and tourism, to finance and the built environment, which the Project Manager has been able to call upon. The Steering Group are all passionate about the future of Selkirk and the surrounding area, and are committed to reversing the perceived and actual decline of our high street by finding new uses for empty and under-used retail premises. Steering Group members are actively involved in the community and sit on other local groups and committees, providing useful connections and cross-fertilisation for the Pop Up Shop project.

In February 2013 the Steering Group appointed a Project Manager, Margaret Sweetnam. Margaret was responsible for making contacts with local producers, makers and businesses to encourage bookings in the early days, co-ordinating bookings and marketing the initiative, particularly through social media.

The Project Manager and Steering Group worked closely with local landlords, who are a crucial part of the success of the initiative. The pop up ‘way’ arrived Selkirk in 2012. Local businessman and property owner Morris Manson was finding it increasingly difficult to find a long-term tenant for his property at 48 Market Place, and decided to make it available for short-term, flexible bookings. Since then, the project has grown to include other premises.

How is it funded?

Where did you go for help and advice?

We spoke to literally hundreds of contacts during the pilot period, including small business owners, makers and producers, landlords, officials of Scottish Borders Council, local politicians and representatives of community groups, in order to develop a wide interest base and user group for our Pop Ups, and to learn from the experiences of others.

We bought a copy of Dan Thompson’s excellent Pop Up Business for Dummies, which we recommend as essential reading for anyone considering getting into the pop up game.

We looked at what pop up organisations are doing in the rest of the UK, including Pop Up BritainEmpty Shop NetworkPop Up Space, and Retail Ready People.

Funding enabled the Project Manager to attend the first ever Pop Up Summit, organised by Pop Up Britain, held in London in October 2013. Although the focus was very much on the urban experience, this event was a fantastic opportunity to make connections, hear from others, learn more about problematic issues such as rental agreements and non-domestic rates. The conference also showed us that we, in a rural part of Scotland, were being innovative in our approach, if not even slightly ahead of the curve.

Scottish Borders Council were helpful and supportive, particularly the Economic Development team, who recognised the impact the project was having on galvanising activity amongst local businesses, providing opportunities for start-ups, home-based or internet-based businesses to have a high street presence, and adding variety and energy to the town centre.

Early on, we sought the advice of Gary Smith, Revenues Manager at Scottish Borders Council, regarding non-domestic (or business) rates. Fortunately, the context of Selkirk is that the properties we are using all have a rateable value of under £10,000 and therefore qualify for the Small Business Bonus Scheme (, which effectively means that no rates are payable. The issue of rates is one which we recognise can potentially cause problems for pop up shops, particularly in larger urban areas.

Hugh Williams, formerly of Business Gateway, provide an example of a Licence to Occupy, which we modified for our own purposes, and took legal advice on.

What’s been your greatest achievement so far?

In summary:

  • Positive feedback from customers, tenants and landlords
  • Generating positive PR for Selkirk
  • Generating over 290 bookings in the 10-month pilot period
  • Inspiring others to try pop ups in their own towns – Galashiels, Kelso and Hawick have pop up shops now. The Hawick shop came about as a direct result of the Selkirk experience

And the biggest challenge?

  • Insurance for pop up properties in a big issue. We found that the insurance industry is not very supportive of the notion. Uptake from pop up tenants in the Borders has been for very short bookings of one to three days on average, so the throughput of people and businesses has been high, in contrast to how things seem to work in other parts of the UK (i.e. urban areas with lots of footfall), where bookings tend to be for longer e.g. six weeks to three months. Through a combination of a lot of asking around, and the perseverance and determination of one of our landlords, we found a solution through Towergate in Galashiels (01896 758371)
  • At our busiest, from October to December 2013, we were operating up to five pop up spaces, which presented some challenges in terms of managing the project
  • Time! There are not enough hours in the day (or in the budget) to get everything done immediately. One step at a time . . .

Any tips for someone for someone setting up a similar project?

  • Beg, borrow, steal (or just buy) a copy of Dan Thompson’s excellent Pop Up Business for Dummies
  • Talk to landlords and keep talking to them – they are your most important partner!
  • Use social media – make connections, build relationships with your followers, tell stories
  • Make sure you have a small and supportive Steering Group or committee that you can use as a sounding board and source of additional knowledge, expertise, contacts and good humour!
  • Get your insurance sorted out
  • Embrace the spontaneous nature of pop ups – just do it!

What’s next for your project?

Additional funding has allowed us to continue to run a busy programme of pop up bookings in three shops. We are talking to potential partners and developing ideas for the next phase of our project, and researching funding options with a view to making applications in the near future.

More information

Contact details

Will Haegeland, Chair, Selkirk Chamber of Trade and Commerce
01750 721233

Margaret Sweetnam, Project Manager
07789 445636