My ode to Stretford Mall

When I had my first baby in 2011, I suddenly found myself with more free time than I’d had for years.  I used this newly acquired time to explore places in Manchester that I had never been to – despite being utterly broke, my mini adventures with my little mute friend were truly happy days.

One of my favourite places to go to back then, when I wanted a change from Chorlton, was to Stretford Mall.  I can hear you laughing, but as someone who can’t really handle the madness of the Trafford Centre (even the Arndale Centre in town is a bit too much for me at times), Stretford offered a more relaxed shopping experience with pretty much all of the shops I regularly needed.  I went there for shops which didn’t have branches in Chorlton, such as Wilkos, Argos and New Look, as well as the excellent discounted bookshop where I bought some of my daughter’s most treasured books, and the discounted branded clothes shop where I got most of my partner’s birthday and Christmas presents.

All these shops, and more, have gone from Stretford Mall in the last 5 years.  I never visited the centre during its hay day and I know that the Mall was waaaay past its best in 2011, but to me it’s recent decline seems so rapid – every time I visit I notice another yet store has gone.  It is one of the starkest examples of what is happening to retail centres up and down the country as shopping habits change and the government continues failing to act on the impact this is having on communities.

It’s hard to believe that when it opened in 1969, Stretford Mall was one of the biggest shopping centres in Britain. This article offers some great history of Stretford Mall, or Stretford Arndale as it was originally called – it’s a great piece, just ignore the bit about Chorlton Precinct – it was written before the CAMhub opened!http://confidentials.com/manchester/stretford-mall-a-portrait-of-a-dying-shopping-centre

I know that the Mall won’t be holding any ‘flower shows, Miss Stretford Pagents and tea dances’ again, but it would be nice to live in a time where all the shop units in Stretford Mall (on both levels!), and all the retail centres like it, were filled and thriving.  It frustrates me greatly that thousands of shop units lie empty because of high rent and rates which make it near-impossible to run a long term sustainable business, especially if you are an indy start up.  It just feels like a wasted opportunity for so many people.

My fear is I believe that by the time my daughter is a teenager, independent businesses on the High Street will be a thing of the past.  But now I am also beginning to wonder if places like Stretford Mall will still exist then as well.  Where will the elderly or disabled people, or the tired new mums go when they can’t face going into town? Where will the ‘community hub’ be then?

Chorlton is not immune to the issues which are affecting Stretford Mall, its just that it has a better reputation therefore people are more willing and eager to set up a business here.  But it is not easy for anyone – things need to change in order for people to be able to run sustainable long term businesses in suburbs and small towns for the health of both the economy and the community.  It should not be as hard as it is to make a small business work on the High Street in any area.   Last year an average of 15 shops a day closed down in the UK, and the number of new openings fell to the lowest level in 5 years, leaving 10% of retail units lying empty.  Analysts predict this situation to worsen over coming years, with the uncertain Brexit effect not helping matters.

I hope that Stretford Mall finds a way to revive itself, just as I hope that when Chorlton precinct is eventually redeveloped it will still be a home to independent businesses.  And I hope that one day the government finally realises that it needs to address the unmanageable business rates issue and make serious changes for the health of the British High Street – and I don’t mean just doing publicity stunts with Mary Portas.

Hopefully one day all towns and cities will be offering opportunities to encourage both shoppers and new traders and the trend of High Street businesses closing down will reverse.  But, given the speed in which the decline has happened, particularly in the last 5 years, things need to happen soon to save the essence -or ‘soul’ – of the UK’s town centres.  The sad fact is that I fear things won’t change and the decline will continue.  I have no idea how long Stretford Mall, and places like it, will last but I’m quite certain things will be very different by the time my daughter is grown up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

OPEN LETTER TO GMPF #1

This is an open letter to GMPF, our business landlord.  It is highly probable that it will be the first of many such letters over the next 18 months.

Dear GMPF,

Ten years ago this month I moved to Chorlton as a bit of a stop gap whilst I figured out what to do with my life.  And, as life has panned out in the unexpected way that it does, I never left and I am now happily settled, raising two children and running a successful business in this strange but loveable suburb.

A heatwave was just kicking in on the day I came here back in 2006 which made the whole exciting move even more full of promise.  We were in a whole new world of beer gardens, open mic nights and roof top BBQs!  I remember going off to explore my new surroundings and stumbling upon the precinct and wondering if I had stepped into a 70’s verion of the Twilight Zone.  And I don’t mean that as a negative – for me it felt special and was somewhere full of untapped potential.  I always knew that it would inevitably be updated at some point, but I could very clearly picture a way to do it and still retain some of its nostalgic charm.

In the time I have lived here, Chorlton precinct has had at least 3 owners to my knowledge.  And over the years, rumours of redevelopment have been ever present.  I remember public consultations and architectural plans aplenty, but then the recession hit and all these plans were, I guess, put on the back burner. 

For me, the timing was perfect.  In 2011 I had my first child which gave me the opportunity to see those shop units in the precinct sitting empty and I began to formulate a long term plan – I knew by then that I wanted a business in Chorlton precinct and I was going to find a way to make it happen, no matter what.

Fast forward to the present day and that goal has been achieved…for now.  I understood when I signed my lease that it expired in 2018 but I didn’t worry because I don’t think I fully appreciated the potential that my business had back then.  I guess I thought I’d be just content to have a shop for a few years and I didn’t really consider too far ahead.  But time is ticking fast and battle mode is setting in.

I now have 3 children – a girl one, a boy one and a shop one.  I unashamedly admit to loving the non-human one just as much as the human ones.  The roots of all 3 are connected to the precinct to some degree and I can’t accept that in less than 2 years it could all be over if all the spaces are allocated to large corporations.  We have all worked hard to create something special in a part of Chorlton which we truly love.  The Chorlton Art Market belongs in the precinct.

My fear is that the redevelopment will see the precinct turned into a soulless identikit plastic mall when I know that it has the potential to be something truly special and something which could be a real gem for Chorlton.  As anyone who has ever lived here will tell you, Chorlton is a beautifully weird place, filled with people with a great sense of social pride and I believe that you, the landlords, have an amazing opportunity to create something that will sit pride of place in your property portfolio.

When the time comes, please consider the fate of my family business – a business which supports over 60 other local people and a business which is loved by an ever-growing customer base.  In a place like Chorlton, with a bit of imagination something ‘different’ has the potential to thrive…but only if the opportunities are there. Please don’t forget about us when you make your plans.

Community Index interview

I have an interview about the markets in this month’s Chorlton Community Index – online version here: http://t.co/ywstGPl1hi

Tell us about yourself, outside of your work in the markets

I am a mother of one with a passion for country music, Fred Astaire and goats cheese.  I like to sew and paint whilst admiring my collection of vintage 80’s Care Bears.

What inspired you to start an Art Market in Chorlton?

As someone who has sold at hundreds of markets and craft fairs over the years, it was always my dream to run an event of my own – but one where the organisers actually cared about the traders.  I had sold at many events where it was clear that very little thought had been given to the people who were selling, and where businesses selling similar items had been allocated pitches side by side, and where the overall quality of the work varied hugely.  I wanted to create events where the traders were the priority because, after all, it wouldn’t be much of a market without good and happy traders.

After having a baby in 2011, I made the decision to give up my previous career in mental health and decided to focus on this vision.  My plan was to create a high quality art market – I realised that Chorlton is packed with loads of fantastic artists and designers and I wanted to facilitate an opportunity for them to sell their work.  There are a lot of talented people here, with great products and branding, and yet I know how hard it is to survive by just selling online.

Tell us about the upcoming community market

After a lot of hard work and two successful trial markets in Chorlton precinct last year, Chorlton Art Market, has now moved to its lovely new home at The Post Box Café.  This has made the organising and the running of the market a lot smoother and a much more enjoyable experience than it was last year!

This has now led to plans for another new market, The Chorlton Community Market which we hope will be a great opportunity for local charities/organisations to raise awareness/support for their causes.  We would also like small online businesses to use the market to provide a ‘face’ for their customers.

How’s it been going?

There is so much planning to be done!  I have sent so many emails over the past couple of weeks, but it all seems to be paying off finally.  Things are looking good.

You’re an artist yourself, tell us about your own art/stall

My brand is Patchwork Papillon and I make personalised Scrabble pictures, as well as patchwork quilts and bags.  Although I have been making things for many years, it is my lovely daughter who gives me my inspiration now.

What are your plans for the future?

We are now planning some exciting themed events for the Art Market throughout the year, with Textile special and a ‘Home & Garden’ market coming up soon.  You can read more about the history of the market, along with updates on our Kickstarter project here:https://chorltonartmarket.wordpress.com/.You will also find a full line up of our stall holders each month on our Facebook page.  Please email Alice at: chorltonartmarket@gmail.com if you would like to find out more about becoming a trader with us.