Why Stockport has the fastest growing economy in the North West

Stockport Market place

Stockport Market place - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

Stockport is a town with bags of potential

Siobhan Chesher and Rachel Medlicott

Siobhan Chesher and Rachel Medlicott - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

If ever there was a time to invest time and money in Stockport, this could be it.

After years of being the poor relation to Manchester city centre the town was recently revealed to have the fastest growing economy in the North West.

Massive investment, not to mention new restaurants and shops arriving on the high street, are helping to create a real buzz about the area.

Stockport has always been known for its ‘alternative’ and grass roots culture, especially in the area around the historic marketplace and businesses such as the daring Where the Light Gets in restaurant and Mobberley Brewhouse are keeping things indie.

Jonathan Markham-Barwell and son, Max (18 months)

Jonathan Markham-Barwell and son, Max (18 months) - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

Relative newcomers, hairdressers Kristian and Naomi Evans opened their salon Tramp in Little Underbank in 2017 and perfectly slot into the alternative vibe. Kristian and Naomi, who won the Most Promising Young Business gong at the 2018 Stockport Business Awards, have set their hearts on transforming the fortunes of Stockport’s Underbanks following a stellar career which has seen them work with pop icons, Vogue models, the Brit Awards and London Fashion Week.

They are currently planning a £250,000 fashion store, live music venue and hairdressing academy and are leading a style-led regeneration designed to transform the fortunes of Stockport’s historic Underbanks area, which they have dubbed #StockportSoho.

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Helen White, co-founder and director of Marketing Stockport, which promotes, supports and connects local businesses said: ‘I am not at all surprised that Stockport has recently been shown to be the fastest expanding economy in the North West.

‘We founded Marketing Stockport over seven years ago because we already knew the town has a thriving business community but it was a well-kept secret.

Director in charge, Steve Pilling at Stockport Produce Hall

Director in charge, Steve Pilling at Stockport Produce Hall - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

‘It’s home to over 13,000 varied and successful businesses, from global brands and national companies to emerging enterprises and Stockport is a hub for innovation and growth.’

Helen believes that Stockport’s potential is helping businesses in the town to be optimistic even in the middle of the Brexit storm.

‘Despite the recent mayhem surrounding Brexit, impact on local businesses and investment appears to be quite insignificant, largely I think due to Stockport’s £1bn programme of investment which is giving businesses and investors greater confidence,’ she explains.

‘The potential for growth in Stockport has actually been even more evident over the past two years, as has been the opportunity to attract new businesses looking to locate to an area that is well connected, has a rich skills pool across diverse sectors and has an exciting future.’

Stockport Produce Hall

Stockport Produce Hall - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

Plans for the future include a new transport interchange, including a two-acre park that will change the face of the town centre and connect the bus and rail networks, while recent new additions include an additional 60,000sq ft of high quality office accommodation currently under construction at Stockport Exchange which has already attracted unprecedented levels of interest.

A very recent new addition to the Stockport landscape has been the Produce Hall, a Grade Two listed market, revamped by businessman Steve Pilling, who has been behind a number of enterprises throughout his 25 years in the hospitality business, including Sam’s Chophouse, La Cantina and Roost in Heaton Moor and the now closed Damson restaurants.

The decision by the council to appoint Pilling has proved unpopular with some of the locals, especially the team behind the Foodie Friday monthly street food event, who were unsuccessful in their bid to run the hall and who wanted locals rather than a businessman to take ownership of the regeneration.

Pilling has also come under fire for not filling the space with independent businesses, as was originally proposed in its plans.

Elizabeth Lowe and Philip Wyatt

Elizabeth Lowe and Philip Wyatt - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

‘There was a bidding process. Ideas went out and we were chosen,’ Steve explained as he arrived at the hall on its first day of opening.

‘There are some privateers in here and some of our stuff but on the whole this will be a journey to create, change and inspire.

‘There has been an amazing amount of goodwill and feedback. What we are already very proud of is that we have already employed about 50 people.

‘I’m really chuffed with the way it has turned out. This used to be an old egg and chicken market. The lamps are re-purposed, the colours are picked out from the historic market hall across the way, the artwork is from local artist Eammon Murphy, so there are little nods to the heritage. We are even going to do Fred Peri Peri Chicken - the legendary British tennis player Fred Perry was born in Portwood, Stockport.’

Stockport Produce Hall

Stockport Produce Hall - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

The response by the public to the Produce Hall on opening day was positive, in spite of the rumpus surrounding the project.

Reddish-based Jonathan Markham-Barwell, who had come along with 18-month-old son Max said: ‘It’s really nice. I’ve worked for Steve in the past and thought I’d come and see it. From first view it’s really clean and crisp. It’s something different from the market.

‘It’s somewhere you could visit with your partner and just chill.’

Phil Wyatt and Betty Lowe admitted they were keen to check out the opening day as they had run stalls in the old market and both declared themselves impressed by the revamp.

Stockport Market place

Stockport Market place - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

Siobhan Chesher and Rachel Medicott, who both live in Heaton Moor loved the transformation too. ‘We are really impressed,’ Rachel said. ‘The decor’s lovely. It’s good to have lifts which is great if you have a pram and it’s quite minimally decorated. I think it will be great on a Friday night.

And Siobhan added: ‘When we have friends up from London it’ll be great to have a place like this to take them to and show them the north has some cool stuff as well.

‘People are definitely seeing Stockport in a new light.’

One person who isn’t as impressed by the hall’s new incarnation is Joe Barratt. He was a part of the bid rejected by the council, in spite of massive support achieved through the Foodie Fridays, music and street food events which have helped to regenerate the heritage market square area.

Joe said: ‘The big difference between our vision and what has been achieved is that our vision was about supporting other independent businesses and the growth of those businesses and working in partnership with them.

‘The models used for food halls across the UK is a partnership between management and street food businesses who are looking to scale up their offer. That was very much what we were proposing, alongside continuing to support the young musical development of Stockport.

‘Now that we know what the offer is, I would say it is a massive opportunity missed for Stockport.’

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