As a former shoe shop becomes a local events hub, it’s a sign of the times for town centres like these

Stockport’s shopping centre has never been the most inspiring of places (more on that below), which makes news of Merseyway Workshop very welcome indeed.

Creativity can breathe life back into our high streets and recapture community spirit after a time of crisis

Due to open in October, this DIY communal space will provide free and accessible creative workshops, rolling exhibitions and retail opportunities for local makers - transforming an empty shoe shop into a place where people can learn, make, share and inspire.

A collaboration between community-focused design team Easy Peel Studio and social enterprise Plastic Shed, Merseyway Workshop reached its crowdfunding £4000 target in just two days - renovations are now underway and the team is gathering suggestions on what visitors would like to experience, as well as working with local artists and organisations to help shape the programme.  

Alongside a bookable event space and an evolving calendar of workshops including woodwork, ceramics and up-cycled plastics, Merseyway Workshop will also provide Stockport residents with facilities to recycle plastic waste that can’t be recycled by the local council; this will be transformed into new products during sessions.

Stockport has around 30,000 low-income families and 36,400 people in poverty. Tom Marrett, Easy Peel Studio co-founder, said: “The space will provide a valuable local provision for individuals who would not ordinarily have the opportunity to engage in such endeavours and we very much see this as a pilot for future projects. The space (also) supports the ethos behind the new One Stockport campaign which is about working collaboratively, connecting communities and promoting health and wellbeing.”

2020 09 07 Merseyway Workshop 2
Merseyway Workshop aims to upskill residents, improve employability and support wellbeing in an accessible, age-inclusive space

Rachel Lewis, co- director at Plastic Shed, added: “This is ‘building back better.’ Having places on the high street put back into local hands means that it is connected to local people and accountable to the community. In the new normal it’s vital that we listen to what the community needs. We can’t wait to see how this space evolves as people use it. As a Stockport-based social enterprise it’s a huge step forward for us and we’ll be able to deliver an even bigger social and environmental impact.” 

To find out more about Merseyway Workshop, and how you can support the project, visit the website.

2020 09 07 Plastic Shed
Cllr David Meller: “Town centres are changing and we have to move with the times to ensure they continue to thrive and attract people for a number of different reasons”

Change is afoot…

Stockport has never lived up to its impressive wealth of attractions; which span unusual museums to Robinsons Brewery and visitor centre plus the cultural likes of Strawberry Studios and Deco gem Stockport Plaza. It’s unfortunate that the town’s £45 million Redrock leisure centre won Building Design’s 2018 ‘Carbuncle Cup’ following its completion, but worse failures include masking natural assets like the River Mersey (largely covered in the town) and its depressing epicentre…Merseyway.

Redevelopment on the dated shopping precinct begun just before lockdown but, as COVID-19 takes its toll on an already struggling high street, community initiatives like Merseyway Workshop - which joins fellow social enterprise Saz Media - will play an increasingly vital role in diversifying its offer and challenging the threat of online. These join VR entertainment, exciting dining additions like The Landing (a new restaurant from Where the Light Gets In’s Sam Buckley) and new workspace via Glenbrook’s STOK conversion of the former M&S building.

2020 09 07 Merseyway Marketing Stockport
With a quarter of Stockport’s shops now empty and Merseyway’s value reduced by around 60% over the last four years (even before COVID-19), centres like this need a broader offer and greater appeal Marketing Stockport
2020 09 07 Adlington Walk Merseyway Cgi
Over the next few years, Merseyway will see new shop fronts, landscaping and public realm improvements. The first stage is the redevelopment of Adlington Walk (CGI here), which began in March

Merseyway isn’t the only place set to change in Stockport centre; as summed up in this snazzy website, there is over £1 billion of investment across multiple sectors. Business projects include Aurora industrial park and Stockport Exchange (whose phase 4 and ‘associated green infrastructure,’ plus the aforementioned Glenbrook conversion, are recipients of the government’s Getting Building Fund). Transport schemes, meanwhile, include a new interchange and town centre access plan…though some are sceptical as to whether Stockport will finally become part of the Metrolink network. 

Also part of the £1 billion programme is Rediscovering the Underbanks, which saw Stockport Council work with the Heritage Trust to secure £1.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Focusing on the repair and reuse of the area’s historic buildings, it expands on the Stockport Old Town project, which was awarded Portas Pilot funding in 2012 and has transformed the marketplace (now also home to the popular Produce Hall) into an area that bustles with events and culture. Hopefully the five-year funding will ensure the Underbanks - already boasting innovative restaurants like Where the Light Gets In and a plethora of microbreweries, artisanal caffs and independent shops - can catch up and be restored to its former glory.   

2020 09 07 Stockport Old Town Credit Stockport Old Town
Some of Stockport Old Town benefitted from Portas Pilot funding - part of a project set up by Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas to help rejuvenate 12 English towns in 2012 Stockport Old Town

What with these developments and Stockport’s Purple Flag status - awarded last year for the quality and safety of its evening and night-time economy - it’s perhaps unsurprising that residential property is getting a boost too: the Stockport Mayoral Development Corporation, founded in September 2019, plans to deliver up to 3500 new homes (alongside a million sq ft of workspace) in the town centre through projects like Capital + Centric’s Weir Mill.

Could Stockport finally be getting its moment? It looks promising.   

Stockport: around and about…

Having grown up in Mellor and Marple, I couldn’t resist adding an addition to this article - some top things to do around Stockport. While the town might be turning a hopeful corner, the borough itself also has much to offer.

Love a stroll in the country? Stockport excels in this respect. The Peak Forest Canal passes through Woodley and Romiley on its way to Marple, then on through Strines, Disley and eventually Whaley Bridge. Forming part of Cheshire Ring Canal System, it encompasses a plethora of landscapes and also offers pastimes like gongoozling (I had to get that word in), fishing at the picturesque Roman Lakes or even renting a canal boat.

PS: If you’re dining, I’d concur with my colleague Neil in recommending The Fisherman’s Table; I’ve never enjoyed a better fish dish than at this Marple jewel.

Onto trans-county footpaths and the Middlewood Way, which stretches ten miles from Rose Hill Station to Macclesfield, passing a series of quirkily-named spots like Devil’s Punch Bowl as it goes. One of my favourite wayside places is Jackson’s Brickworks nature reserve, reclaimed by wildlife after its industrial interlude and a mosaic of habitats in miniature.

Other scenic walks that are well worth the visit include Ladybrook Valley, Mellor Tops, Werneth Low, Reddish Vale and Romiley’s Etherow Country Park and Chadkirk.

It’s not all about the walks either; from the bustling Heatons to the stunning Bramhall Hall - a Tudor manor house set in scenic grounds - and award-winning Avro Heritage Museum, there’s more to entertain.

And of course you’re not far from the Peak District but that’s a whole other article….

2020 02 16 Bramall Hall 09 05 16 Roman Ruins At Mellor Tops 09 05 16 Marple Locks 1 09 05 16 Marple Has 16 Locks 09 05 16 Mandarin Duck At Etherow Country Park 09 05 16 Etherow Country Park 09 05 16 Bluebells At Etherow Country Park 2020 08 11 Fishermans Table

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