Jonathan Schofield and the fight for a landmark
STRETFORD Public Hall is a building cut off.
It's set back from Chester Road dual carriageway and appears to be staring hard at Edge Lane leading to sweet Longford Park and golden Chorlton.
On the south another loveless dual carriageway cuts the building off from the even more loveless Stretford Mall. Tormented subways stretch hither and thither, a Spaghetti Junction for pedestrians.
The whole scene appears as though a gang of planners in the 1960s were conducting a trial called 'How to ruin a perfectly decent suburban town in one fell swoop'. With forensic precision they dismembered Stretford leaving its centre scattered on each side of major roads with the biggest victim the fabulous Essoldo Cinema, stranded on the eastern side and condemned to whither.
After 1974 Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council swallowed Stretford along with Altrincham, Old Trafford, Urmston and so on. It then allowed two monuments to the munificence of one of Manchester's greatest philanthropists, John Rylands, to moulder.
First to go was Longford Hall in Longford Park, a gift to Stretford, and a well-loved community asset. The park remains a public asset, of course, with many a fine feature, although the formal gardens need more love.
After Longford Park it was the turn of Stretford Public Hall.
This opened in 1879, the gift of John Rylands to the people of Stretford. The architect was N. Lofthouse, the style was Gothic, the materials used a blend of brick and stone with decent carving. It held a library, lecture theatres, a coffee shop. Later it was a civic theatre, then council offices, then nothing.
Trafford Metropolitan Borough is a curious creation, a national north-south divide in microcosm, which seems very proud to have low council tax and little cultural infrastructure. Fortunately, when it felt the need to lose Stretford Public Hall a group of dedicated locals came forward to save the building from doom.
The Friends of Stretford Public Hall say this about themselves.
'(We were) formed in 2014 to take on the ownership and running of Stretford Public Hall for the benefit of the community. It is a charitable community benefit society that is democratically run by its members on a one-member one-vote basis.'
This Saturday (4 February) there's a second anniversary party which is part of a fundraising scheme to bring the ballroom back into use. A community share offer will be launched.
I’ll be there in my capacity as a writer with Manchester Confidential and a tour guide telling stories of Stretford, John Rylands, Enriqueta Rylands and spicing it up with fact, daft stories, scandal and a bit of humour. There’ll be a cocktail bar hosted by the Cocktail Stars and music from local DJ, Dr Sid.
As the press release says: ‘The free event is to take place from 7pm, kicking off a two-month campaign to raise £150,000 from the community to fund a series of essential refurbishment works which will transform the ballroom so it can host events accommodating up to 400 people. This will allow the organisation to generate sufficient income to run the hall sustainably and importantly pay investors back in the future.
‘The community share offer will also allow the public to become members and co-owners of the Hall through an investment in the democratically-run organisation. It will also help secure further funding through a commitment from the charitable fund Power to Change to match the first £100,000 raised by the community, providing an overall funding pot of £250,000 to pay for the refurbishment.
‘While the share offer will be targeted at local residents, anyone with an interest in the building will be able to invest. The minimum investment will be set at £100, with investors having the option of paying in four monthly instalments of £25.
‘Community share offers have been used to finance a wide range of community enterprises in Manchester, such as FC United who raised over £2m in 2015 to fund their new stadium. Anyone can pledge their investment at www.stretfordpublichall.org.uk ahead of the share offer launching on Saturday 4 February.’
At Confidential we think this is a good idea.
If the Friends’ aims and aspirations can be met then a handsome building, one of the few remaining Stretford landmarks will be brought back to active and fruitful use. It might be too late to lose the dual carriageways and subways and bring back Longford Hall, but if Stretford Public Hall can be saved then it will be a triumph for community action at a time when we can rely less and less on councils such as Trafford.