There are more independent businesses in Southport town centre per square metre than London

Lord Street, Southport

Lord Street, Southport - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

Rebekka O’Grady and photographer John Cocks meet some of the new independent businesses calling Southport home

Sarah Rodriguez of BID with Jessica Heyes and Saskia Cooper at Tappers Cafe

Sarah Rodriguez of BID with Jessica Heyes and Saskia Cooper at Tappers Cafe - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

‘There are more independent businesses in Southport town centre per square metre than London. Lots more businesses appear to be popping up everywhere; Wesley Street is always full. We are just trying to make people realise it’s a lovely place to be,’ said Sarah Rodriguez, marketing and events coordinator at Southport BID.

‘I moved here five years ago and didn’t realise how many great independents there were. There seems to be negativity about what isn’t here rather than what is. You can fall in love with Southport again.’

The BID - part of the Business Improvement District programme – launched a ‘Southport Independents’ campaign recently with the aim of encouraging people to shop local, dine in one of the independently run restaurants, or enjoy a night out here.

‘It’s just about discovering the town again,’ said Sarah. ‘There’s still so much to be excited about here, with lots of unique and interesting people and businesses.’

With that in mind, let’s meet some of Southport’s newest businesses to open in the last 12 months…

Leah Harwood and Ellie Richards at The Plant Academy

Leah Harwood and Ellie Richards at The Plant Academy - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

Plant Academy is growing

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Located inside Southport’s Indoor Market is The Plant Academy, the first independent vegan café to open in Southport when it launched in April 2017. It’s owned by Ellie Richards, who set up the business at the tender age of 24 when she decided she wanted to do something for herself.

‘My parents were vegetarian, so I was also brought up a veggie. I had a brief period of eating meat during a rebellious phase at university, but I soon went vegan after watching a documentary,’ said Ellie, now 25 and the daughter of Zoe at Barley and Twist. ‘During my time at Lancaster University, I supported myself in various hospitality jobs. After graduating, I didn’t really know what to do so carried on working in cafes. However, I grew tired of making bacon sandwiches and decided to set up my own place.’

Ellie was unable to afford her own restaurant, but a spot in the indoor market seemed like the perfect place to launch her business. Here, she and her team serve breakfast, lunch, hot drinks, smoothies and gluten free cake – all of which are made from plant based foods.

‘It’s been a learning curve as running your own business is a lot of responsibility but people have been loving it, it’s had a really good reception. We don’t just get customers who are vegan, there’s a whole range of clientele. We are changing people’s perception – vegan food can taste amazing.’ www.theplantacademy.comCup winners

Another café changing perceptions can be found inside The Atkinson on Lord Street. A Great Little Place is a social enterprise operated by Autism Ventures, a subsidiary of the charity Autism Initiatives UK. At the café, they are able to offer meaningful work experience within a supportive environment to people with autism. This in turn helps the person to develop work, behavioural and social skills to hugely enhance their lives. ‘Autism Initiatives was set up in 1971 by a local Southport mum, a go-getting lady who wanted to set up a charity to support people like her and her son, who has autism,’ said Jon Gordon, head of enterprise. ‘There are now 2,500 staff all over the UK, but our head office is in Bootle. We wanted to keep the heart up here so that we are still connected to this area.’

Jon Gordon (right) and the team at A Great Little Place in The Atkinson Arts Centre: Ewelina, Shane,

Jon Gordon (right) and the team at A Great Little Place in The Atkinson Arts Centre: Ewelina, Shane, Kirsty and Verity - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

The model launched in 2010 when a gap was recognised between children’s provision and adult services, a middle band of people in their late teens and early 20s getting close to the job market but having no experience. ‘There’s no funding to help them find work. So we set up a credible business like this, where people can earn money and use it as a way to gain skills and get on the career ladder.’ There were originally two A Great Little Place sites in Southport, however when the opportunity arose to take over the café at The Atkinson in September 2017, it was the perfect way to relinquish the other leases and expand into a better site with improved kitchen facilities. ‘There are lots of opportunities to develop the business and develop real services here. The spring opening hours will extend with that of The Atkinson, and we have plans to support their theatre and evening events,’ added Jon.

Staff have been trained to have an understanding of how to support someone with autism, and those who have been selected will have gone through an interview process to make sure they are suitable for the type of work. ‘Some people who maybe aren’t great talking face-to-face may prefer to work in the kitchen, learning how to cook and bake cakes – more formulaic instruction. Others may enjoy chatting to people over the counter. Autism is tough, it’s not a visible disability and it could take a minute or two for someone to realise that something is not socially quite right,’ he added.

Within the café there is no clear indication that it is a social enterprise other than a small hint with its tag line, ‘great coffee, great food… for a great reason’. This was purposely considered so that it can compete on the high street in the same way that any other business does. ‘We want people to come here because they enjoy the food and drink, not because they feel sorry for people,’ said Jon. ‘Business is booming and that is brilliant as ultimately that means we can provide more opportunities for those with autism, and that’s the crux of it. We have a social heart – something that a high street chain hasn’t.’ www.agreatlittleplace.orgUsing her head

We might not have the same temperature in Southport as Dubai, but despite the cold weather and being unable to sunbathe on the beach, it’s a place that Melanie Pickup has always called home. After ten years of living in the Middle East, she decided to come home to raise her family and try something she had wanted to do for a while – launch her own business.

‘I moved back to the UK and two years later my husband followed. In that time, I had been hand making headwear under the name Retro Culture, selling it online on ASOS and Etsy and it had really taken off. I’d wanted to open a shop for ages so two months ago I said “why not, let’s try it”.’Melanie opened her store in Wayfarers’ Arcade in October 2017, stocking her headwear accessories, which range from hair bows, headbands, bandanas and flower crowns, alongside retro and vintage pieces.

Most of her clothing stock is 1980s and 90s American vintage, which she sources from many different places. ‘There’s nothing over £25, I want to appeal to all demographics. One of the big draws is that once the stock is gone, I will never get the same thing in again. I get drops every ten days, so if you are a regular customer that means you will likely see something new each time you come in.’

Melanie Pickup at Retro Culture in the Wayfarers Arcade

Melanie Pickup at Retro Culture in the Wayfarers Arcade - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

‘I’ve always loved Wayfarers’ Arcade since I was a little girl. There is a real ambience about it, with something always going on. I go and say hello to everyone, see how they’re doing. It’s a nice community of people with small businesses. I just wanted to add something new and different.’’s no chain store

‘Bicycles rule my world.’ That’s why Rory Buckingham, owner of Spinwell Cycleworks, decided to open his own shop. The bicycle repairs, servicing and supplies shop opened its doors in May 2017 on Wesley Street, a familiar place for Rory as his mother Allyson had owned The Cherry Tree toy shop on the same road for over a decade. ‘She was four doors down to where I am now. We have a shopkeeping background so I felt at home when I opened up here. ‘I had always been working in bike shops part time, so it was a family dream to open my own place.’

Part of that dream was to run the store with his father Neil, who sadly passed away a few weeks before it opened. ‘It was meant to be a venture with dad, so it’s bittersweet. It’s played out exactly how I thought it would – I spent years thinking about it.’ Trade is busy for Rory as he appears to have filled a much needed gap in the cycling market of Southport. Spinwell Cycleworks is workshop focused and the demand is there, repairing and servicing old and new.

‘Kids today can reprogramme computers, but there’s always a demand for hands on repairs like this. The location is really good, I get plenty of commuters getting off the train and dropping their bikes off before work. There’s an emerging trend on the high street to become service orientated, and that’s what underpins this business, the retail side of it is just extra.’

When he’s not in the shop, Rory enjoys road cycling, in particular exploring Lancashire. His favourite route is through Chipping, the Cobbled Corner café being one of his top destinations:. ‘It’s quite a ride, like a 60/70 mile route, but Chipping is the nicest place I have ever been. Buying a bike is money well spent; you can’t get better value – enjoyment and fun as well as the environmental and fitness side of it.’ to be independent

‘I’ve been playing around with furniture since the 1980s, going into junkshops as a student with little money. My first attempt was a blanket box; I look back now and I am ashamed of the painting and upholstery!’ said Zoe Richards of Barley and Twist, a workshop and store located on Leicester Street.

Zoe Richards at Barley & Twist

Zoe Richards at Barley & Twist - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

The talented businesswoman specialises in upcycling, upholstering and painting furniture, as well as stocking a range of homeware gifts.

However, Zoe only opened her dream store in September, after a career in the NHS and photography. ‘I was a manager in the NHS before becoming a portrait photographer, but the portrait industry changed so I went back into the health service.

‘However, a bullying manager did me a favour and I eventually quit and signed up for a course at the Ministry of Upholstery in Manchester.’ Zoe trained in modern upholstery for four months and has never looked back. As far as she is concerned, sewing and upholstery is in her blood.

After receiving her own tool kit from her father aged ten and having the skill of sewing passed down generation to generation, she is where she’s meant to be.

‘It just felt like a natural progression. I was upcycling things for shoots while doing my photography. ‘I think some people are made to have their own business; the fact that I have to make my own money pushes me and fires me up with enthusiasm.

‘With Barley and Twist, I am inspiring people to bring their old pieces back to life and that gives me a real joy.’ Alongside her blossoming business, Zoe has also set up her own campaign ‘We are Southport’ to encourage people to shop local and independent.

Barley & Twist

Barley & Twist - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

One of the aims is to inspire incremental changes to shopping habits, for example, the £5 campaign. ‘The idea is that if you go into an independent, you could buy a card, coffee etc – something little for £5, but that helps boost their sales. We’ve stopped purchasing our fruit and vegetables in the supermarket and now get them at Mrs G’s at the indoor market.

‘Things like that make a huge difference. My business survives by Southport surviving.’

Rory Buckingham, owner of Spinwell Cycleworks

Rory Buckingham, owner of Spinwell Cycleworks - Credit: Pics; John Cocks