Rochdale's reinvention - the �500 million challenge
Rochdale has taken on a �500 million challenge to reinvent itself. Emma Mayoh reports
When the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers first decided to tackle the challenges brought about by the Industrial Revolution they couldn’t have known the impact of their actions. Their revolutionary work from their Toad Lane shop eventually developed into what is now The Co-operative Movement. There are now thousands of like-minded organisations around the world that have been founded on the principles first established by this innovative group.
Today, there is another big challenge to overcome in the town and it is a hot topic. The promise of investment, redevelopment and improvements has been temptingly dangled under the noses of its residents for years. But now, it seems, things are happening.
The town has a new sixth form college - the intake is already oversubscribed for next year - and work on a new police station is underway. The development of new municipal buildings, cafes, restaurants and a library to replace the current ‘black box’ is under construction alongside the River Roch. The east of the town will also get a multi-million pound leisure centre as well as retail areas and a public square being billed as the largest in England.
It is all part of the Rochdale Borough Renaissance Masterplan that aims to � improve the quality of life for local people. The ambitious �500 million plans will change swathes of the town centre, including along Drake Street and the eastern part of the town.
Andy Zuntz, executive director of Rochdale Council, said: ‘The plans are bold and ambitious because huge parts of the town centre are being rebuilt. But they need to be. It is all about building on the town’s best assets. We have wonderful architecture like the town hall and areas like Broadfield Park. But other areas need improvement.
‘Rochdale has suffered from an outdated image but that is now changing. We first started talking about this in 2005 and there has been a lot of concern about the town centre. I do sense now that there is a belief from the local residents that we are going to deliver on our promises.’
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Other major parts of the masterplan include the arrival of Metrolink. Work in Drake Street will prepare for the direct line between Rochdale and Manchester and a decision on the plans for a new bus station is expected later this year. Just outside the town centre, near to the motorway junction, a vast 420 acre site is also being developed to attract more people, employment and money into the area.
Kingsway Business Park is half the size of Manchester city centre and will have 160 canal-side homes, shops, a hotel and offices. A warehouse being built by JD Sports will create 400 jobs but the park is expected to create thousands more.
Andy said: ‘It’s all about creating opportunities for the people who live here. Manufacturing is a big part of our economy but this has been in decline for several years.
‘We have been hit hard by the recession but we are starting now to develop skill levels, we need to encourage the positives and the passion of our local community which is a rich and diverse one. Our one aim isto improve the quality of life for local people.
‘It will bring disruption but it will be worth it when the work is done. Rochdale is already a fantastic place but in five years time it will be incredible.’
There are several smaller projects being run in Rochdale at the moment to support the ambitious plans.
Rochdale Town Centre Company is currently putting finishing touches to one of their own redevelopments of part of a building in Cheetham Street. A disused floor has been refurbished and units for start-up businesses have been put in to provide a hub and to encourage smaller businesses to set � up in the town. It is hoped the Rochdale Emporium will provide the ideal opportunity for new businesses to grow and the move into larger units in the centre.
The not-for-profit organisation also runs a Love Rochdale, Love Loyalty card scheme to encourage more people to shop in the town centre.Suzy Woods, marketing and events officer, said: ‘It’s all about keeping people coming back to the town centre. We lost a lot of footfall in the past because of other major retail developments but we are now starting to see an improvement.
‘The Love Rochdale card uses incentives to encourage shoppers to spend their money here and it’s working. We only started it late last year and figures are already up.
‘There has already been a lot of interest in Rochdale Emporium from all kinds of people which is really encouraging. We want it to provide opportunities for those people who could not afford the costs of leasing the bigger units in our town centre.
‘There are a lot of positives happening in Rochdale now and there are a lot of people working hard to make it even better. It’s an exciting time for everyone.’
There is a little piece of Rochdale in Moscow. But in a busy industrial area in the Russian capital is Rochdale Street. It is named after The Rochdale Pioneers Equitable Society, who we know today as The Co-operative Society, and a commemorative plaque states a group of men from the Lancashire town helped to set up a conglomeration for weavers inthe city in 1922.
Royal Wedding fever will also hit Rochdale this month. Rochdale Borough Council is offering help to any residents who want to host a street party on April 29th.
Celebrations are already being planned to mark the achievements and foundation of The Co-operative Society. 2012 is the International Year of Co-operatives. A series of events, still being discussed, are planned for next year. There is a lot of artistic talent in Rochdale. Touchstones, near Broadfield Park, has regular exhibitions. Also supporting the local arts scene are Angela Jenkin and Chris Hamilton. The couple run Number Ten in Baillie Street and most of the ceramics, photographs, paintings and trinkets are produced by local people. They also hold regular exhibitions including a new exhibition by Rochdale Art Group that will run from April 12th - May 12th.
Broadfield Park is the oldest in the borough. It is full of interesting features including a memorial to four Rochdale dialect writers who have preserved local speech in verse and prose and an ornate bandstand built in 1893 and restored in 2005.