This blog post originally appeared on Haphazard.Business blog on 5 October 2022
We have now completed our 6-week Fourth Portal popup test in Great Yarmouth. The reaction has been positive despite not completing all the tasks we set ourselves. Testing the business model will extend for two further months over autumn 2022.
We began implementing the Fourth Portal business plan at the start of August 2022. Without fanfare, the doors opened to an unexpecting public. The erection of a temporary banner above the entrance announced our presence. The wider world was made aware through a small amount of social media posts. It was an intentionally low-key affair.
L to R: Building repainted, temporary power supply and fitting of temporary signage.
There is a large team feeding into the Fourth Portal concept. Lauren Lapidge, a Platform-7 colleague, flew in from Greece for two months to help set up the popup. Lauren has years of experience in events and public interventions. She has worked on several Platform-7 interventions, including Margate 2011. We began setting up the physical space and liaising with the broader team and suppliers.
Much of the team is remote. We have technicians, technologists, engineers, artists, academics, researchers, builders and retail specialists. It’s incredible to have such impressive expertise feeding into the business.
L to R: John, Lauren and James Stevens (SPC), John Pigram (sound), Pat Codd (logistics), Graham Klyne (Liftpod and Annalist), John Pitman (virtual reality) and Gillian Harwood (building owner).
Developing the space
The business plan describes the physical space of the hub, designed to ensure flexibility while providing some consistency. Each Fourth Portal requires its own identity while sharing a similar vibe. Writing a plan on paper is one thing - creating the physical space is quite another. Only when people enter is it possible to know if the business plan is on the right track.
The feedback from people who have wandered in has been excellent. The interventionist approach developed by Platform-7 is proving successful. It provides a sense of involvement for visitors and gives them a voice in how the space evolves. People’s views are listened to and taken into account. These conversations often furnish a sense of ownership and belonging from the outset. It is real-time feedback.
L to R: Liftpod set up, testing screen options, visitors Jaye and Simone trying out Liftpod
Blending cafe, retail and technology
The 6-week test period was to try out different strands of the business model. Operating in a physical space allows the broader Platform-7 network to see what a Fourth Portal looks and feels like in reality.
Bringing different experiences and services together under one roof is not unique; it is becoming commonplace to see cafes, retail and workshops in one place. The difference with Fourth Portal is adding technology, arts and learning to the offer.
L to R: Coffee, teas and non-alcoholic beers, cleaning products made from plants, plants and books
The positive public reaction was a bit of a surprise if being honest. The space was not much more than a building site when opening and was still not tidy by the end of the 6-weeks. People seeing the space change each day generated intrigue. It attracted people who would otherwise not have noticed. With the gloomy political and economic climate, the popup brought a sense of positive change and fun.
There was a welcoming and encouraging reaction from people wandering into the Fourth Portal.
Suppliers, furnishing and art
Since Brexit and the pandemic, supply chains have been under strain. Reestablishing relationships with previous suppliers and building new relationships was a priority. Observing the reaction to the eclectic furnishing was fundamental to the learning. Hanging artworks to create a stimulus, as well as having them for sale, has proved popular.
L to R: Artist Kevin Gavaghan in the Mind Room and Artist Peter Rodulfo in the Main Room
Our hardware guru, James Stevens managed to secure an internet connection while we wait for an optical fibre connection to be installed. He also brought a raspberry pie for the internal network. Lauren spent several days preparing this for visitors to use. We did not manage to test our provenance system or the hybrid space; both are the priority for stage two. Building the structure to surround the tech took precedent and longer than expected.
Shifting from a business plan on paper to real-world testing provides excellent insights. Throughout the popup test stage, we had building issues (no power), sickness and supplier delays. Such issues help build resilience. It allows for robust systems to be established in the future business model. When operating at capacity, it becomes difficult to adapt processes within a business.
Fourth Portal gathering
The fourth Portal is novel, making it a complicated business model. Each Fourth Portal needs to be sympathetic to the neighbourhood where it’s located. The local community needs to be intrigued, feel welcomed and know the business is for them. Over this first test period, we appear to have achieved this in Great Yarmouth.
Although we did not complete all the tasks we set ourselves, we did get the place open and operational. Feedback from the people coming in has been invaluable. The reaction has given a boost to what is possible and how the Fourth Portal can grow. Generating income in a town suffering deprivation remains a challenge.
Stage two is focused on installing technologies and making the business financially sustainable. Creating a sustainable business in Great Yarmouth may encourage others to open up in the town. Overall it has been a very satisfying experience.