In 2011, the Government published ‘The Portas Review’ in the light of concern over Britain’s declining high streets and town centres.
The Portas Review made a number of recommendations aimed at identifying what government, local authorities, businesses and communities could do together to promote the development of new models of prosperous and diverse high streets.
One of the Government’s responses to the review was to invite bids from town centres around the UK to become a ‘Portas Pilot’ and to put in place a ‘Town Team’.
This would be an opportunity for different local stakeholders to come together and form a visionary, strong operational management team to drive the development of their town centre forward.
In April 2012, Stockport applied to be a Portas Pilot town, with Stockport Council acting as the accountable body. An application to become a Portas Pilot town was submitted to the government for consideration in the form of a written bid document and a video.
A clear consensus about what area the funding should be focused on was gained through a wide range of discussions with businesses, residents and members of the local community. The area that people felt had the most pontential for growth from investment was the ‘Market and Underbanks’ area, the original heart of the town.
Within the bid document, the Council openly admit that “whilst money has been spent on the physical renewal of this area, its potential still remains unrealised.”
The video bid for Stockport’s Portas Pilot was presented by young social entrepreneur, Joe Barratt, who co-founded The Teenage Market in Stockport with his younger brother Tom.
The vision expressed by Joe in the video is that “Stockport is full of creative people but one of the things that is lacking is a social hub where these people can come together.” A community arts centre will help bring a “new atmosphere and new people to the town”.
Chief Executive of Stockport Council, Eamonn Boylan, stated that “there are lots of brilliant people already doing some great things in the town centre and the Council is absolutely committed to working with them to build on the success that they are starting to achieve.”
Joe Barratt finishes the video by stating that “while there are a lot of things already happening, it’s obvious to everyone that a lot more needs to be done. Stockport needs the Portas Pilot to help us with our pioneering story of grassroots growth.”
After the bid was submitted, Stockport was successfully awarded £100,000 to develop the ideas outlined in the town’s bid further. Stockport was also awarded another £100,000 of High Street Innovation money, as well as another £100,000 of capital match-funding from Stockport Council.
In April 2013, members of Stockport’s Town Team voted for a new decision making project group, which would manage the ongoing delivery of the town’s Portas Pilot projects.
The priorities of this new group were as follows:
• Fill vacant units with exciting new uses
• Increase footfall and introduce new people to the area
• Animate the area with new uses
• Encourage the growth of specialist and vintage retail
• Support existing businesses
• Help establish an evening economy
• Show value for money
The first major decision taken by this new group was to establish a defined core area where the Portas Pilot money would be spent.
The area was given the name: Stockport Old Town
Our aim as a group is to make Stockport Old Town a dynamic, vibrant community hub, which delivers a high-quality retail, leisure and cultural offer to the people of Stockport.
By building off the area’s unique charm and character, we aim to create a popular destination which succeeds in attracting people from all over the North West.
While the typical modern day shopping experience is a fairly disconnected and individual one, what Stockport Old Town offers is a chance for shoppers, visitors and residents to engage with real people who run independent shops and are part of a real community.
Set against a striking historical backdrop, Stockport Old Town has the potential to develop a strong local economy powered by the efforts and energies of local people.
This year has seen the start of a period of real change for Stockport Old Town. Through running events and activity over the past year which engage our citizens more directly, Stockport Old Town has fast become a thriving and bustling destination for people of all ages to visit.
We’ve seen the area’s evening economy begin to thrive, through events like the ever popular Foodie Friday, a rise in the number of interactive cultural events, like the first ever Fringe Festival, and the creation of a digital and visual arts centre, Seven Miles Out, which has attracted a number of families to visit the area.
All of this has started to change the negative perceptions many residents had developed towards the town and has also begun to restore the sense of pride and belonging many members of the local community had lost over time.
Leading the way over this past year has been the Portas Pilot Delivery Group. We are a visionary and strategic delivery team made up of representatives from local organisations based in Stockport Old Town.
Over the past year, the group has earned the trust and belief of the local community through using our inherited powers to fund activity which gives the area a greater awareness and ultimately brings more people to visit and shop.
During a period of cuts to key services in the town, the group have managed to spend the finance that was made available wisely and effectively.
The group meet regularly to discuss and debate what action should be taken to drive the area forward and have been able to achieve some real change in the past year by taking a hands-on approach to shaping the future of Stockport Old Town.
By working together, the group have begun to spearhead a vision for the area which we hope will be built upon in years to come.
The following organisations have been invited to select representatives who will serve as voting members on the new Portas Pilot Delivery Group:
The Teenage Market
NMTF, Stockport Branch
Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Stockport Branch
Stockport Historic Quarter
There are also two voting members selected to represent the independent sector. They are:
The Stockport Old Town Brand
With the Stockport Old Town brand, we’ve captured people’s imaginations and shown that the town is heading in a new direction.
One of the first major decisions made by the group was to create a brand identity for the core area which would unite all of the area’s independent businesses and specialist events under the banner of ‘Stockport Old Town’.
A brief was put out for companies to create a new visual identity for the area, which could be used across all relevant marketing channels, as well as to create a dedicated website for the area.
The company which responded with the strongest pitch for a new visual identity was local digital design agency Ahoy. The team presented to the group a vision that appeared bold and confident, based around a logo for the area which felt fresh and friendly.
Ahoy had the strong opinion that the brand should avoid taking a “traditional” direction by leaning too heavily on the history of the town, as we’d appear stuck in the past.
Instead, the brand draws upon the wealth of history belonging to the area, through the use of the town’s striking architechture, whilst representing the need to embrace change and move forward with the times.
The new brand identity has recieved overwhemlingly positive feedback from members of the public and has managed to unite local stakeholders together under the banner of ‘Stockport Old Town’.
Now different parts of the community see the clear value in working together in order to promote the area as a destination to visit and shop.
The brand has definitely put a stop to various factions in the area conflicting with each other and has shown that a unified, collaborative approach achieves the best outcome for everyone.
The Stockport Old Town Website
The website for Stockport Old Town has provided visitors with a one-stop source of information about the area’s independent traders and upcoming events.
Events are regularly added to the website, keeping the site relevant to repeat visitors, and a regular email newsletter is sent out to let subscribers know of upcoming activity in the area.
The website has given traders who previously haven’t had the relevant skillset to get an online presence the invaluable chance to promote their business online.
A key feature of the site is also the digital map which gives each business a point where they are located in the area and a category, which can be filtered, depending on what they offer.
Since it’s launch in April 2014, the Stockport Old Town website has recieved over 70,000 site visits.
Stockport Old Town now has dedicated social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook, in order to spread news of events and activity even further.
In the short space of time the accounts have existed we have already developed a loyal following who frequently visit the pages for updated information.
The official Stockport Old Town Facebook page now has 865 Page Likes, a reach of 2,962 and a weekly post click rate of 517.
The official Stockport Old Town Twitter page now has 1,135 followers, has an estimated reach of 102,906 and 363,793 impressions.
The group has taken out an extensive marketing campaign in order to raise general awareness of the area.
Adverts for Stockport Old Town have appeared in print publications including the Stockport Express, The Skinny, Now Then, Stockport Source and Moor Mag.
The group have also invested in billboard advertising, in order to reach the large amount of people who regularly visit the town centre. The group targeted the busy A6 corridor, which connects Stockport to Manchester, so that people get to see the new Stockport Old Town brand as they drive to work or get the bus into the town centre.
Featured on the billboards have been some of the area’s award-winning businesses, from Robinson’s Brewery to The Plaza Super Cinema and Lord of the Pies.
As well as advertising through print and billboards, promotional campaigns have also been run on the radio with BBC Radio Manchester, Imagine FM and Pure FM.
A partnership between Robinson’s Brewery and Seven Miles Out has also resulted in the creation of Stockport Old Town ale.
The increase in marketing and promotion for the area has been a key factor in why some new businesses have decided to invest in Stockport Old Town.
Seven Miles Out
The vision for a creative community arts centre and social space for film and music was realised through the creation of Seven Miles Out.
The name Seven Miles Out was inspired by one of Stockport’s cultural landmarks. It was the name of a boutique emporium in the town centre in the 1960s owned by maverick entrepreneur Miles Baddeley.
The team wanted to recreate and celebrate this era of independence in Stockport, by directly referencing a place which had been loved by so many people.
The idea for a community arts centre in Stockport Old Town was a central part of the town’s Portas Pilot bid application, after it was identified by a group of local stakeholders as a way to regenerate Stockport’s Market area.
The proposed team to run the arts centre was Joe, John and Rosemary Barratt, who all had great experience running a number of creative events in the town including Screen Stockport Film Festival, The Teenage Market and Seven Miles Out Music and Arts Festival.
The team wanted to create a space which could capture the energy and atmosphere their events generated and be home to everything from music, art, film, comedy, spoken word and digital technology.
A key element of the arts centre was that it should be a multi-functional, flexible space which could facilitate a number of mixed uses.
The arts centre would be a family-friendly space with a warm atmosphere, appealing to people who believe their experience of Stockport should be about more than just the standard retail offer that Merseyway Shopping Centre provides.
A prime unit in the Market Place which had been empty for over two years was identified as being appropriate for the arts centre. After acquiring the space, there was quite a bit of work to do by the team before they could officially open to the public.
The team had to get to work tearing up old carpets, dismantling wooden partitions, and giving everywhere a fresh coat of paint. They soon breathed new life into the space, bringing a vibrant and colourful look to what was previously a dull and dusty unit.
Since opening its doors to the public, Seven Miles Out has developed and run a regular programme of specialist events and activity including music sessions for young people, weekly workshops for local photography enthusiasts, regular open mic nights, a popular monthly alternative comedy night and a fortnightly film night.
The reaction from the public towards the space has been extremely positive. Most praise the fact that there is somewhere in Stockport Old Town that they can come to which is friendly, warm and welcoming and, most importantly, unique to the town.
Winter Fireside Event
The first event held in Seven Miles Out was the Winter Fireside Celebration which took place in the centre’s courtyard in December 2013.
The event was designed by artist Sophie Tyrell for families looking for an alternative Christmas offer beyond the tinsel and tills of Merseyway.
Over 300 people attended the event over three days and each visitor was invited to come and sit by the fire, bake bread, make a lantern and listen to stories.
The event proved just how much of an impact events could have in bringing families back to Stockport Old Town.
Mojo Bravo Comedy Nights
One of the most popular events taking place in Seven Miles Out has been the monthly Mojo Bravo Comedy Night.
The sell-out shows have attracted over 500 people to the area over the past year to see hilarious comedy acts fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Comedians that have performed include Lost Voice Guy, BBC New Comedy Award finalist Chris Turner, star of Dave’s ‘One Night Stand’ Danny Mcloughlin and winner of The Soho Theatre One Night Stand Up Award, Vikki Stone.
The Mojo Bravo Comedy Night is run by local resident Martin Bain.
Stockport Old Town Fringe Festival
The first Stockport Old Town Fringe Festival launched with a bang, taking place on Friday 29th, Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st August 2014.
The event aimed to be big in scale, high in quality, and full of colour, vibrancy and life, and succeeded in bringing lots of new faces to the area over the three days.
The event included art, music, food and entertainment, and managed to attract over 10,000 people to the area.
On Friday, the Marketplace was full of people for Foodie Friday, sampling delicious food and enjoying craft ales. Those that visited Seven Miles Out could buy a bottle of Stockport Old Town ale and be entertained by traditional Irish music.
On Saturday, visitors could take part in a musical tour of Stockport Old Town and be entertained in the evening by the musical talents of comedian Vikki Stone.
On Sunday, world class performers enthralled the local community with interactive workshops from Circus House, spectacular displays from Pif-Paf, and death-defying feats from Dick Danger.
The day also featured a Festival of Markets with The Teenage Market, Vintage Village, Handmade Market, and Stockport Market all coming together to provide an eclectic and diverse offer to shoppers.
Visitors praised the buzzing atmosphere and many local businesses reported a rise in their daily takings. The Fringe Festival was sponsored by Orbit Developments.
Medieval Viking Fair
The days of Norse invaders and knights in armour were relived as Stockport Old Town stepped back 1,000 years in time.
Over 7,000 people visited Stockport’s first ever Medieval Viking Fair where activities including bow and arrow firing, coin making and a falconry demonstration.
There was also battle reenactments, a Viking longboat and an array of medieval stalls to explore, selling all sorts of interesting products.
Each of the three days had live music including a dazzling performance from Serpentyne in St. Mary’s Church and a rocking performance by Leafblade to end the festival in the Marketplace.
The event successfully transformed Stockport Old Town for two whole days of Viking fun for all the family.
As part of our support for existing businesses, the group commissioned Trudy McLindon who set-up ‘Think Customer’, to run retail workshops with local independent traders.
Trudy worked closely with businesses and ran five retail workshop sessions, covering areas including discovering what your unique selling point is, understanding your customer, looking at what customers want in the 21st century and using effective signage and displays to attract people.
The workshops delivered by Trudy were personal, informal and friendly. They managed to get businesses to take a fresh look at themselves and evaluate their key strengths and weaknesses.
Trudy worked very closely with trader Charlie Cheese to better advertise the face that his cheese, eggs and jams are all sourced locally from farmers and producers.
20th Century Stores
As part of our commitment to support the growth of vintage and specialist retail we have supported 20th Century Stores.
Located right next to Stockport Market, 20th Century Stores is a unique emporium housing a collection of specialist traders offering an extensive range of homeware, decorative items, furniture, luggage, jewellery, clothing and accessories.
The emporium houses a number of independent vintage businesses including Gabro Antiques, Harwood-Brown, Snygg, Modernist Midcentury, Retrodecs, Tin Trunk, Village Vintage Clothing and Waxdelirium.
When Phase 2 of the development is completed, there will be support for additional businesses and space for a cafe.
The initial response to 20th Century Stores has been very positive from shoppers and visitors to Stockport Old Town.
Foodie Friday is an evening event in Stockport’s Market area which provides street food, craft ales and live music on the last Friday of every month.
The event was started in May 2013, funded by Stockport Council and organised by council employee Esther Morrison and Market Manager Paul Downs.
High-quality street food traders line the streets each month, while local performers play to the crowd and people socialise with each other in the market square.
Foodie Friday has brought a continental feel to Stockport’s Market area and has positively affected the trading of surrounding businesses, bars and venues in the area.
Due to cut backs, Stockport Council no longer had the resources to fund the event, so the group have decided to fund and deliver the event for the next year.
Stockport Old Town Folk Festival
The first ever Stockport Old Town Folk Festival attracted thousands of people to the market area for four days of live music, dance and family entertainment.
The St George’s Day celebrations in the Market Square involved over 150 children from local schools – Vernon Park Primary, All Saints Heaton Norris, St Paul’s Brinnington and Banks Lane Offerton – in a colourful display of traditional dance and a St George and the Dragon play written and performed by children from Vernon Park Primary.
A parade of magical creatures featuring a golden dragon, a silver stag and a copper unicorn made by local artist Sophie Tyrrell paraded around the market square and the dragon performed a hilarious fight with St George and his knights played by historic re-enactors The Earls of the North.
The popular street food and drink event Foodie Friday, which takes place on the last Friday of every month in the market square, had a special ‘folk’ theme as part of the festival celebrations, attracting one of the biggest turnouts the event has seen.