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 First Mural and the Second Market

The end of November saw the completion of the first stage of the mural work by local artist Dan Birkbeck. This work has been well receieved by the local community and provides a good idea of how the precinct will look with a bit of added colour!

quilts 004

Research and plans are now underway for the rest of the exciting mural project. The Chorlton Revival committee is currently in the process of working out an application process for the artists who have shown an interest in being invovled with this. Please get in touch if this is something you may be interested in.

The mural provided a great backdrop for the second Chorlton Art Market which took place on Saturday 7th December. Since this day also coincided with the national Small Business Saturday campaign, we worked alongside Chorlton Traders and a number of other organisations and businesses to get Chorlton recognised as a town which supported it.

small biz sat 008

In some ways it felt like there was even more work and effort put into getting the second market organised. There were a few setbacks in the couple of weeks leading up to the market, but thankfully everything was sorted out just in time! Who was it who said setting up a market would be easy? (Me, before I started actually doing it!).

market 2 004

It seems to be hard for me to see the markets as a ‘success’ because I still see so many things that I still need to get right. This time was certainly busier than the first one and there were some aspects which I felt I did manage to improve – mainly the relocation of the food and bar area which worked a lot better this time.

In summary, there is still a lot of work to be done to make this market as good as it is in my head. I have had some great feedback from both traders and visitors to the market and it seems that the local community support the idea. Sadly, at present the landlord of the precinct is asking for a very high rental fee for a long term market which would not be financially viable. Along with the Manchester City Council Regeneration team, we are now working on seeing if this fee can be reduced. Considering the space where the market is has not been used for decades, and since one of the main aims of the market is to raise the profile of the precinct and increase footfall, it does seem such a shame that the landlord wants to charge so much for a community project.

Project Overview

I began recognising the issues facing the high street over the last few years, and started making plans to make changes in my local community.  As an experienced trader at hundreds of craft fair events, my dream was always to have my own shop, but I soon realised that in today’s climate it would be very hard to make this financially viable.

Instead, I identified an empty, neglected area of Chorlton and liaised with the estate managers to find out if there was any chance that I could use the area to create something good for the whole community. My goal is to turn this grey, dead space into something colourful and which will actually be used.

As I began formulating my plan of action, I started to seek out people who shared my vision and who had the skills to help get the project off the ground. Out of this, we have formed Chorlton Revival – our constitution aims being “to regenerate neglected areas in the Chorlton environs, using design, artistry and other creative innovations, to make useable, enjoyable and accessible spaces for all local residents and to facilitate independent trading”.

I also recognised that alongside with the regeneration plans, the space also had the potential to be used for something else. This lead to plans to create a new monthly market, specifically selling locally produced art and high quality design (from my own experiences, I have realised that the quality of the work on offer has to be paramount in order for the market to be a success).  In addition to this, the long term goal would be to attract local creative businesses and organisations to use the market as an opportunity to promote themselves and their work.

Having been involved in various Chorlton Arts Festival projects, I recognised the amount of talented local artists and creative people who live and work here.  Many are self-employed (such as myself) and work hard to make a living selling their work online and at fairs and markets all over the country.

It is my belief that due to the location of the market, it will benefit not only the market traders, but also the surrounding businesses.  It will also turn a large unused space into a community hub and become a place that people will make a special effort to visit.  The market will become an opportunity for local people to build up a face for their business and raise their profile, and at the same time, build up connections and contacts with each other.  This will then in turn help their businesses to grow and build a stronger sense of local identity.