Spotlight on Southport - Lord Street and the Indoor Market

Interior of Southport Market

Interior of Southport Market - Credit: Archant

If you are heading for Southport don’t miss the award-winning indoor market

One of Southport’s best known faces, Jean Alexander, formerly the formidable Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street, has already given it her stamp of approval.

Now, the town’s beautifully restored indoor market has been confirmed as a major asset to the town with the awarding of a prestigious national title following its £3 million makeover.

Outside and on the aisles, banners proclaim it as Britain’s Best Small Indoor Market and it’s not hard to see why. The late Victorian stonework has been restored and the inside floods with daylight making it an inviting place to shop.

It’s bright and clean, the aisles are wide and there’s a good variety of stallholders.

Michelle Coleman, who runs the Sweet Indulgence confectionary unit, said: ‘It’s a really nice place to run a business. The people are very friendly and it has a great atmosphere. We are hoping the news about the award spreads and brings in more business.’

Meanwhile, the boom in making your own clothes – bolstered by BBC’s Great British Showing Bee – has already led to expansion at Habiknit, the haberdashery stall. ‘The market has been very good for us,’ says Debbie Whiting. ‘More people are knitting and crocheting so we’ve been busy.’

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The centre was up against some tough competition but the judges at the National Association of British Market Authorities said they were swayed by the transformation of the building which had been in a poor state of repair. They said it was now a major shopping destination within the town.

Before the revamp, the market was outdated and the dark interior was stripped out. The existing traders had to be temporarily relocated while the redevelopment, not without its problems, was finished.

Jean Alexander told Lancashire Life: ‘I used to come here as far back as the 50s. It was marvellous, lovely pork pies and sausages, everything was really excellent quality and it was always spotless.

‘But times changed and people preferred to go to these soulless out of town shopping sheds. I’m so glad it’s been revived. We’re finally getting back to some kind of sense. I’ve never driven - as a jobbing actress I could never afford a car so it’s great to be able to shop in the market again.’

It took three years but today’s bright, contemporary facility is a great credit to the town.Tough economic times mean most traders in the town will celebrate the fact Southport has one more reason for people to visit.

The ballot of Lord Street

Southport traders banded together to make a video hoping it would persuade retail expert Mary Portas to include the Lord Street area in her government scheme to revive Britain’s high streets.

They chose a sunny day to shoot the film and they were proud that it showed Southport in such a good light. A big mistake.

They were rejected and it soon became clear Southport just wasn’t grim enough to join the shopping queen’s entourage of grotty towns. The truth is many town centre managers would give their eye teeth for a Lord Street.

Displaying impeccable logic, they waited for the second round of bids and made another film – this time on a miserable, rainy day and they focused on the town’s empty shops.

They still didn’t win and, with hindsight, they might have had a lucky escape. However, they are not quitters in Southport. Alison Grady, who owns Covet & Crave, a Lord Street shop selling high class accessories, said: ‘People realised the days of relying solely on the council to provide a pot of money for marketing were long gone.

‘The Mary Portas bids created a lot of momentum, almost a Dunkirk spirit, and we didn’t want to lose that. It also made us realise what a lot of skill we have in the private sector.’

Instead of packing in, they decided on another BID – an acronym for Business Improvement District. This is a government scheme which gives access to tens of thousands for marketing the area, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through.

The hardest part for BID chairman Alison and her team involves a referendum among businesses in this area, who will agree to a levy on their rates if they vote yes.

The scheme has widespread support but it’s not universal and a result will be revealed in the late autumn.

Alison likes a challenge. She worked her way to the top with Microsoft before being was headhunted by Marks & Spencer to run their customer service department.

She and her colleagues on the team know how to get things done and if they have their way, you will be hearing a lot more about Lord Street in the coming months.

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