Back in the hayday of 2011 when my daughter was a newborn and life was better than ever, I took part in a fantastic opportunity run by our local Arts Festival team. For over a year, 50 local artists and crafts people took turns to rent out a previously unoccupied shop unit in our town’s shopping precinct. This meant that every week, a new person or group of people, transformed the shop into something totally different and had the opportunity to sell their work and build up interest in their brand. It really was something very special indeed for our town, and for all of us who sold our wares there.
Eventually, in December 2012, the shop unit was taken on by a more long term tenant so it seemed that the dream had died. But I was inspired by the Chorlton Arts Festival shop, and I vowed that I would make something happen in the precinct again.
By this time my daughter was 18 months old and I was more than eager to get more active in making my own business, Patchwork Papillon, work, as well as trying to get a shop in the precinct again for the benefit of myself and all the amazing creators that I knew. So, for 6 months I did nothing but sew and send emails (and look after my daughter of course!) and eventually in June 2013, I secured an agreement for a short term pop up shop in one of the large empty units. It was, quite simply, a dream come true.
This then lead onto a successful crowdfunding campaign, and the organising of two art markets within the precinct, as well as gaining the support from Manchester City Council Regeneration Team and the Chorlton Traders Association along the way. I felt that the Art Markets made a real difference to the precinct and hopefully even managed to change some of the negative views about the place, even just for a day.
Everything was looking good and full of exciting prospects for my ideas for the precinct, up until January of this year when the development was sold and future precinct plans were put on the sideline. But I’ve never given up because I don’t know how to give up on things that I believe in. Finally, after 9 months of emails, the story can begin again. Exciting times lay ahead, and not only for precinct plans, but for The Chorlton Art Market as well.
Although it has been very tough at times to keep things going, my vision is still one I believe very passionatly in. Sometimes I feel frustrated and it seems that Chorlton isn’t doing itself justice at all and is losing some of the aspects which made it special. But its not just Chorlton – the problem is everywhere. Collectively, people are allowing our country’s town centres to become something which will soon be unrecognisable and it just seems crazy that we are letting this happen. It seems wildly crazy that it is such a massive struggle for business owners to pay their business rates. And its not just a few independent businesses who struggle, it seems to me to be the majority. Something is very wrong there. It is bizarre that more people aren’t more concerned about these issues, or can’t see how rapidly things are changing for the worse. Even if you don’t have a shop (or, like me, dream of having one), a degenerated town centre does nothing for house prices, quality of life or social connectivity so it affects us all.
Something has to change soon. And not just daft half-baked government schemes. Something big. Hopefully, one day, the people at the top who make the big decisions will gain vision and learn to see beyond the profit monster. Maybe they will recognise that sometimes things need to be done differently in order to achieve great things, even on a small scale.