Stockport - a local community focussed on building a successful future
This town has a rich history but the local community is focussed on building a successful future
Stockport is brimful of new projects to fashion its future, but determined to make the best of its past. Fashion itself was once the town’s focus.‘At one time we had over 200 hatting factories,’ said Christine Smith, manager of the busy Hat Works Museum at Wellington Mill: ‘They were all felt hats and the environment here, particularly the river, was right for that work.’
Another craft with deep roots in Stockport is set to attract visitors. Robinsons Brewery, based in the heart of the town, will enhance their already strong brewing heritage with a new visitor centre planned to open in March.
Sarah Rogers, Robinsons’ retail marketing manager, said: ‘This is social history at its best, a great excuse to have a brewery tour and sample award-winning cask ales.’
Another beery project in the offing is Casks for the Community. It is the brainchild of Chris Czyzyk.
He said: ‘We aim to establish a not-for-profit community-based microbrewery and pub. There’s nothing like it in the country.’
His colleague and brewing expert Mike Hitchen said: ‘We got the idea from villages where residents were buying back their pubs and running them.’
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They have a site in mind, and have recruited a retired RBS director to help with business planning.
Hats and beer unite at resurgent Stockport County FC. The team is nicknamed The Hatters, and part of their Edgeley Park ground was just renamed The Robinsons Danny Bergara Stand – Danny a club great, and the brewer a major sponsor.
County’s ground-share with Sale Sharks RFC has now ended and the Hatters have regained day-to-day control of Edgeley Park and thus its revenues, delighting media manager Phil Brennan.
He said: ‘We’ve been running the club-store out of what can only be described as a broom-cupboard but now we have what was our shop originally. The fans have been superb – we’ve only been back there two weeks and last week alone we did £5,000 in the shop where we’d been doing £550 a week.’
Club director John Fitzpatrick continued: ‘We’ve already painted all the ground to take it back to what it used to look like. We’ve a goal that something has to be done here every week, whether it’s selling hoodies, painting the stands, the shop or bringing more kids in.’
There are other projects planned and during the close season volunteers will complete the work to fully transform it into Stockport County’s ground.Those changes wrought by John Fitzpatrick’s dedicated team reflect efforts at another Stockport symbol, The Plaza. This 1930s picture palace became a bingo hall in the sixties, and closed in 1999. Super-human voluntary labours, council help and hefty lottery funding have restored the magnificent Egyptian-esque building that also hosts stage events.
‘The building was derelict, potentially due for demolition,’ said general manager Ted Doan. ‘Then a small group got together to save it, the fairy-godmother waved her wand and it reopened with love and little else in 2000.
‘The attention to detail in the restoration was fantastic. The chairs in the cafe are Lloyd Loom in a colour not made since the 1950s. As it’s Grade II listed we’re allowed to use the original lead-based paints, the period fire exit signs etcetera. We only used flat-head screws as cross-head weren’t invented until 1937.’
The Plaza won £20,000 of Portas Money, government funds to revive town centres, to install a Kinotron digital projector. They now screen shows beamed live from The National Theatre, Bolshoi, and Glyndebourne, as well as modern movies. Yards from the Kinotron stands the world’s last Kalee 8 projector in use – built in 1928 it provides sound via records.
Other landmarks add their style to the centre of town. Councillor Iain Roberts, executive member for economic development and regeneration, said: ‘The Victorian covered market is an icon of the town, and millions have been spent on the buildings around the area like Staircase House which a few years ago looked like it might collapse. Now it’s a fantastic museum.
‘The area of the town we’re now looking to improve is the historic part, the market place and Underbanks and Brows. It goes back to the medieval origins of Stockport.
What we haven’t got yet is the footfall so we want to bring people into that historic area.’
Drawing those crowds is what Corin Bland and the Town Team Committee are doing with some of the £100,000 Portas money granted last year. There are already plans for a Stockport Sausage Festival over Easter weekend and a Brows challenge in the summer.
‘In the old days when you had to use porters to move your goods in the market place they would compete running up the steep brows,’ said Corin, who also runs High Peak Brewery. ‘We’re looking to do that for charity with teams using a beer barrel as a baton.
‘The Portas funding will also be used to encourage pop-up-shops, helping people to fill empty retail spaces in Stockport. It could be more imaginative than retail, maybe arts spaces.’
Amid much change, constants remain. Lorraine Cain has been a fixture on Stockport Market since 1962.
She said: ‘I started with Wyatt’s Fruit 50 years ago, and have had my own stall for 25 years. I love everything about the market: the people, the traders – although I can’t say on an outdoor stall that I like the cold, wet weather!’
Stockport Plaza: a potted history
1928: Plans for a cinema topped by a snooker hall and garage rejected
1932: Plaza construction into a hill requires removal of 10,000 tons of rock. Stage included in case new-fangled talkies don’t last. Design heavily influenced by recent Tutankhamun-inspired Egypt craze.
1965: Sold to Mecca Leisure
1967: Plaza reopens as a bingo hall with massive changes to decor – Egyptian touches hidden
1970s: Lounge area becomes Samantha’s Nightclub
1999: Bingo hall closes
2000: Listing upgraded to Grade II*, and purchased by Stockport Plaza Trust
2007: £1.9 million lottery funding secured for restoration
2009: Restored Plaza reopens after £3.2 million of work
2012: Kinotron digital projector installed