The Victoria Quarter in New Brighton boasts one of the biggest street art tours in the UK
“WE'VE still got fish and chips. The local people are not all hipsters,” laughs Rob Jones, street art director at Rockpoint Leisure. We’re eating lunch at Habibi, a Middle-Eastern inspired restaurant and bar on New Brighton’s Victoria Road, just one of the businesses that have helped transform a neglected high street into a proud community.
I see this as a spark. I think there are thousands of places just like New Brighton.
As part of Rockpoint’s continuing plans to breathe new life back into this seaside town, the Victoria Quarter has gone from empty shops and boarded up windows to a new cultural hub with pubs, bars, art galleries, a record store and “anti-super” supermarket.
Rob’s mission is to put his hometown on the map for street art, and in his role with Rockpoint Leisure he’s commissioned work from local and international street artists including Nerone, SmugOne, Dotmasters, Ben Eine, Fanakapan, Mr Penfold, Snik, Insa and Nomad Clan.
The murals have grown from just a couple to one of the biggest street art tours in the UK, with an official visitor guide and tourist map available online and from local businesses.
One of the newest and most eye-catching works is by Dublin-based artist Aches, a colourful mural that pays tribute to Guide Dogs, the national charity founded in New Brighton in 1931.
The mural covers the entire side wall of an end terrace on Virginia Road. As I look up at the three kaleidoscopic canines, I wonder how the residents feel about people turning up at all hours to photograph their end gable.
Rob has the unusual job of knocking on doors to ask home-owners if they’re up for turning their property into a blank canvas.
“They’re local stories by international artists, so the community can relate to it,” he says.
“We specifically pick the artists and they're all done on private homes.
“I like the homeowner to be involved because it is for the community and that’s why we're doing it.”
As well as lining up potential artists and new locations, Rob is partnering with Street Art Cities, an international street art community, to spread the word globally about New Brighton. Fame has its price though and he says it’s now much harder to keep new artwork under wraps before it’s finished.
“People are hunting it down now,” Rob says. “Even if somebody is just painting their house, people start tagging me. And I’m like, no it’s not me, it’s just some dude painting his house!”
Following the street art trail, we pass the James Atherton pub which found international fame after rebranding as “The Three Bellends” and now “The Two Helmets” in honour of Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock.
One of the newest additions to the high street is the Anti-Super Supermarket. The building was previously a failed Kwik Save, Somerfield, Co-op and Budgens, but has now been recycled and transformed into a music venue, bar and recording studio, with independent pop-ups and markets.
We visit Rockpoint pop-up gallery where The Dusty Teapot is holding a free exhibition featuring historic photos and posters of New Brighton. A little further down the street is Oakland Gallery, which shows a mix of contemporary art, alongside pieces from artists heavily involved in the global street-art scene.
The name Oakland is quite appropriate - the US city on the east side is now considered to be the cooler alternative to San Francisco; once overshadowed by its twin city on the other side of the Bay.
A focal point of the Victoria Quarter is Rockpoint Records; a coffee shop, record shop, tattoo parlour, barbers, bar and clothing shop all rolled into one. In the basement, we meet the guys behind The Big Bang Brewery, two local entrepreneurs who set up their own distillery to make Gravity Gin, Relativity Rum and Plastic Scouse IPA.
Back at the coffee shop we bump into Dan Davies, CEO of Rockpoint Leisure and the man who took matters into his own hands to save his neighbourhood.
Dan was so concerned about the decline of New Brighton’s Victoria Quarter that he left his company CPL Training to set up Rockpoint Leisure, purchasing empty and derelict buildings in the area to be redeveloped. Three years on, and with venues now open and thriving, one of his key goals is to stop big corporations and chains from opening here.
“Growing up round these streets, I couldn’t wait to get out, because there was no hope, no opportunity, no big business,” Dan says.
“That isn’t unique to New Brighton, most seaside towns suffered similar fates, apart from ones in close proximity to London or that had more forward-thinking councils.
"The first place I bought was what is now the art gallery, a former solicitors that we used for our office," says Dan.
"The first twelve months I spent day and night on the street speaking to people, to see what people's habits were, and I spoke to people old, young, and we got the kids together, and we said, let’s make this the best seaside town in the country.
“99% of high streets in the UK, if you were blindfolded and parachuted in, you wouldn't know where you were.
“We've got a pharmacy, we’ve got a post office. We’ve got an optician, a greengrocer. A few pubs, and a bit of a base that you’ve got to protect at all cost.
“I see this as a spark. I think there are thousands of places just like New Brighton.”
For more information on the street art tour visit New Brighton Street Art.
Follow Vicky Andrews on Twitter: @planetvicster
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