Meet the locals of Aigburth Road in Liverpool
- Credit: Pics; John Cocks
It stretches the length of the Liverpool suburb, and over the years has hosted many shops and businesses. Rebekka O’Grady chats to those who currently call it home
Denise Harris and her team are people who make things happen in Liverpool.
SK Events had been in running for six years before their current offices in the same building, an old bank, became vacant in 2012.
Denise and 12 colleagues specialise in managing and delivering a range of events – including the popular Liverpool Food and Drink Festival, which last year celebrated its 10th anniversary.
‘At the time, it was Mersey Partnership and Culture Liverpool who were looking at setting up the festival to raise the profile of Liverpool’s food and drink scene. We pitched against various other companies and won it as a job,’ explained Denise, who had 8,000 people come to Sefton Park in the festival’s first year as a one-day event.
The second year saw funding cut, so it was put on with the help of sponsorship. ‘By the time they got to the third year, funding was completely cut so we took it over ourselves.
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‘We had loved doing it and really enjoyed it, so we couldn’t just walk away. The next few years were all about making it sustainable, and people today still think we are funded but that’s not. the case. It costs in excess of £200,000 to put it on, as well as paying my staff their wages, so it can be challenging.
After all, it is in a park so you have to bring in all the infrastructure year-after-year into a blank space.’
However, the team’s hard work pays off dividends and every year the festival goes from strength to strength, attracting big names from the world of food and drink, including Marco Pierre White, Yotam Ottolenghi and the Hairy Bikers, as well as providing an opportunity for local producers, restaurants and bars to showcase to the public.
‘It’s great to see the small, independent businesses that used the festival as a pop-up to see if their idea was a viable and now we see them years later doing so well. Luyna, for example, was just a passionate idea, now Peter Kinsella has built a brand and following in two cities.’
It’s not only the Liverpool Food and Drink Festival, taking place September 15 -16, that SK Events have created. The company also set up the Liverpool Spring Festival in Sefton Park, which celebrates the new season.
Running April 28 – 29, the festival has a different identity to its sister event and features a more hands-on approach, with crafty workshops, yoga classes, gardening sessions and a celebration of healthy and wellbeing, alongside street food and producers.
As well as food and drink festivals, SK Events have event managed various other ventures including Liverpool John Moores University’s ‘Grad Fest’ and the running of the VIP section at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Carlisle – a career highlight for Denise.
New for this year, they are launching a new foodie festival, Manchester Eats at Heaton Park, and Disco Classical, an explosive celebration of classical music combined with DJs and icons, Sister Sledge, which will be touring the UK.
‘It’s a massive year for us as a company,’ said Denise. ‘We are excited to continue to grow as a business and I really think the best is yet to come.’
NO SHORT CUTS
From car finance salesman to director of his own company, Dominic Davidson had a dream that he wasn’t afraid to follow.
‘Barbering was something I was always interested in. No barber could ever fade my hair properly, so I wanted to learn how to do it myself. I was 21, and couldn’t find anyone who was willing to train me as they wanted young apprentices. However I came here and the then owner was willing to give me a go.’
Dominic trained in the barber’s sister shop in Runcorn for two years, as it was a busier site. One thing led to another and the owners then offered him half of the Aigburth site on the basis that he took it over self employed. ‘The shop was struggling, it wasn’t making any money so I had one year to turn it around and make a profit. Within a week I was making money and it was a success after 12 months.
In February 2012 I purchased the other half. It was quite strange as I sort of spoke the whole thing into existence – my old boss had asked me when I first started what my goal was and my answer was to own my own shop.’
Now six years into business, he has three members of full time staff, including 21-year-old Nathan Jacks, who started with zero-skills as an apprentice and is now assistant manager. He also has his own Directors Cut product line featuring wax, shampoo, salt spray and beard oil and soap.
‘As a barber you are exposed to brands, some which are considered top level, and using a lot of different products made me think about what makes one good. That’s when I wanted to make my own. ‘We started with the wax, which is still the best seller, and it took me a while to choose the right one as I wanted to make sure I was 100% happy as I was putting my name on it. The Directors Cut isn’t just a name; it’s a brand which I have some long term plans for. My main goal is to open my own barber school.’
CLUB FOR COFFEE LOVERS
It seems that Amanda Wilson was always destined to own her own café. Despite a 17-year career in the NHS which saw her work her way up from a receptionist in a doctor’s surgery to becoming a deputy director, she eventually came back round to something she had always dreamt of doing.
‘It’s funny, the surgery I used to work at is still my GP, and when he found out I had taken over Coopers CoffeeShop he said that’s what you said you always wanted to do. I didn’t realise I had talked about it so much,’ said Amanda, who is originally from Hull but went to university in Liverpool. She loved the city so much she never left.
‘I am a great believer that it’s better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t, so I essentially walked away from my job seven years ago to take on Coopers Coffee Shop.’
It seems that the risk has paid off, and Coopers has become somewhat of a go-to destination in Aigburth. Whether it’s to sample their famous Welsh rarebit or just enjoy a coffee and a cake, it has a real community feel about it.
‘I think this end of Aigburth is almost like a village, where everyone knows each other. We have a fairly high repeat customer base, for example there’s a group of ladies who all live in the same street that come in, and a couple that visit a few times a week to do crosswords.
‘It’s really nice as you get to know people and can look out for them. It’s almost like a community hub, and that’s a lovely atmosphere to have going on here. When someone walks in we know their order, it’s already in the kitchen and a cup of tea is on the table. One gentleman visits everyday at 12pm and we always have a table ready for him.’
For Amanda, she has always loved cooking and hosting people, so Coopers is the perfect fit. They used to run a bistro evening once a month, something that she is looking to restart soon, and they also host a book club on the last Tuesday of every month. ‘Coopers is a different place for many people and I think that’s what makes it work.’
USE YOU LOAF AND GO LOCAL
Alan Gordon first hit the headlines before Christmas when his post encouraging people to shop local during the festive season went viral. The owner of the Bread Shop Bakery, a suburban-style grocery shop selling everything from freshly baked goods and fruit and vegetables to sandwiches and canned goods, has since pledged to try to stock as many goods from independent suppliers as possible.
‘I’m trying to buy only from independent retailers and cottage industries. For example my sausages come from Aintree, the bacon is from Bootle, the pies are from Gluten Free Pie Company in Liverpool and ACE Butters by our Paula, a scouser in Chorley,’ said Alan, the third generation in his family to run the shop which is celebrating its 60th anniversary. It was first set up by his grandfather, Len, in 1958 before being taken over by his father, Frank.
‘Everything you buy from me has an impact, whether it’s helping pay the wages of the staff I have here or the supply chain of everything that I sell as well. When you purchase something from here, it helps those other suppliers. If we closed down, there would be a knock on effect to them too.’
As well as helping other small businesses gain exposure, Alan offers a delivery service to cars outside for those with mobility issues or with young children. When it’s not always easy to get out of the car to come shop in store, customers can simply call up, request what they need and a member of staff will bring it outside to them.
‘I never thought about it until I had children, and I realised how difficult it can be. It’s the same for self-service checkouts – they can be so confusing. We have some customers in here that would be unable to use them, or don’t have the means of getting up to the bigger supermarkets, which can be daunting in themselves. To be able to offer that service to them and have that social element of shopping is something which has stayed the same across generations.’
It certainly is an excellent legacy and it’s one that Alan would love to be able to pass onto his children. He has early memories of being in the shop with his dad and has watched various generations of customers grow up, and now he wants the same for his son and daughter.
‘My daughter comes into work with me now and hopefully she will have the same memories that I did – there are some customers still coming in now that can remember me running around in nappies. We’ve had to adapt over the years to keep going, like my dad had to remortgage his house when we first installed the ovens to create the bakery, but we don’t want to lose that service first started 60 years ago.’
STAGING A CELEBRATION
Another local business close to celebrating a remarkable milestone is the Liverpool Theatre School. Established in 1939 by Anastasia Morrissey, her grandaughter Norah Button, who was born the same year, took over and now it is led by principal Maxine Ellis, although Norah is still involved.
‘As our anniversary next year coincides with Norah’s 80th birthday, we are going to plan something really special,’ said Maxine, an ex-student at the school. She enjoyed a professional dance career across Europe and America before being asked by Norah to co-principal in 2001 and taking over the role fully in 2011.
‘One of my favourite things about being principal is seeing students do well once they leave us. Watching them perform in a show is a proud moment, I normally cry! Despite the industry being so competitive, this is the type of school where students are so supportive of one another.’
It specialises both in professional musical theatre training to students aged sixteen and over, and acting training to students aged eighteen and over. They are one of only two places in the North West to offer the highly regarded Trinity College London Diploma in both Professional Musical Theatre and Professional Acting. There’s no shortage of knowledge here either, as alongside experienced staff that have come from the industry, patrons and advisors include Wayne Sleep, Bill Kenwright, Graham Bickley and Sir Ken Dodd.