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.

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It has finally happened!

Its hard to actually believe, but after months of stress and work, the Chorlton Art Market Hub is finally open! Even up until the day before I still wasn’t 100% sure it was going to happen, but somehow it all came together at the last minute.

I am very happy that the shop is now a reality, but I’m angry about how hard it was make happen. I’m in no way adverse to hard work by any means, but what frustrates me is the fact that the government pretend to support high street initiatives – pop up shops and markets in particular, but in the real world it is just a series of endless battles. My main realisation is that people who wear suits to work don’t really understand real life at all. I know this sounds like a bit of a generalisation, but in my experience, these big time estate managers of retail precincts know all about the money side of things, but they have no idea how to create a successful thriving community space. Just using Chorlton precinct as an example, to me it seems that the landlords really aren’t bothered about what sort of businesses rent the units, just so long as they get the money. Why on earth would they think that a shop selling beds and sofas would sit well amongst the greengrocers, the bakeries, the butchers etc? How does that make any sense at all? I’m quite certain if they had undertaken a survey of Chorlton shoppers to find out if ‘the people’ wanted a furniture shop selling pleather sofas, the majority answer would of been no. It was doomed to fail from the start and it simply strengthened the negative view that some people have about the precinct. An e-cig shop will have a similar effect.

Anyway, I’m rambling now. I just feel that there is so much wrong with the way things are done and, to me it seems quite clear how it could be changed for the better. If the government really want to support independent businesses and pop ups in empty retail units, then they need to have a rethink about the whole business rates issue. I just don’t understand why they haven’t changed the way they work out business rates despite the rise of internet shopping over the last decade – how can they not see that this is one of the main reasons that year on year, shop closures are rapidly increasing? And how do they STILL not see what a worrying thing this is in so many ways? Like I said – people in suits havn’t got a clue because they don’t shop in little precincts – Waitrose do home deliveries don’t ya know.

This government is just fucked up. I know there’s no real connection to the high street issue, but if our ‘Equalities Minister’ voted against gay marriage, then it’s pretty clear to me that the people in power are most certainly not the right people for the job. I really am rambling now. Good night.

The story so far…

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.