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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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.