An influential group of business leaders met this week to debate Stockport’s progress as a vibrant commercial and growing residential hub and called for momentum to be maintained.
Hosted by the town’s leading commercial landlord, Orbit Developments, at its recently refurbished 1 St Peter’s Square over 70 members of the networking and publishing group Marketing Stockport expressed their views on the last few years of progress and the next steps for the town.
Leasing Director Rhys Owen from Orbit Developments chaired a panel of some of Stockport’s most vocal supporters – Gorvins Solicitors Christian Mancier, Clarke Nicklin’s Brian Bradley, MD of Grassroots Recruitment Caroline Patten and Stockport BID Manager Paul Taylor.
Meeting at the heart of a visibly better invested town centre the mood was upbeat and positive in marked contrast to business panel sessions of a few years ago.
Rhys Owen commented: “Back then we would not be even having a conversation about coming into the town centre to shop or enjoy a night out and it was a struggle to sell the wider town centre to businesses, but now all that has changed.”
Caroline Patten of Grassroots Recruitment agreed: “People have seen improvements, perceptions are definitely going in the right direction and people want to talk about Stockport and the benefits of joining a business here.”
“We are also attracting candidates with a few years’ experience looking for longer-term opportunities rather than people just starting out or coming back to Stockport for a quieter commute. We are increasingly competing with Manchester now for those skilled professionals who can get career opportunity in a reinvigorated Stockport offering better quality restaurants, leisure and social amenities. It’s exciting to see.”
The station was marked out as a particular highlight of the £multi-million investment programme. Clarke Nicklin’s Brian Bradley said: “It’s now a bright, modern gateway to the town with striking glass buildings and smart hotel facilities that we are proud to use as meeting points for clients who live out of the area. It’s a great welcome to the town.”
The growth in refurbished or new build residential property was also pin-pointed as a significant development and one that would contribute to a changing town centre culture. Caroline Patten again. “It changes the personality of a place because the town is not just for shopping or working – it’s for living, which then drives change in public realm, services and activities to create a thriving community hub.”
Nobody was under any illusions that the job was done and all acknowledged that the next few years would be even more significant.
Paul Taylor from Totally Stockport, the town centre’s BID campaign, funded by town centre businesses, said there were exciting developments in the pipeline not least in greater WIFI access.
He said: “This is brilliant for people to use wherever they are in the town, but also provides invaluable data on what people are doing when they come in, how they flow around the place, which will help us attract more businesses and shape ideas for events.”
All agreed that in future a focus on better defining key areas of the town like business (Stockport Exchange), heritage (Stockport Old Town), retail (Merseyway) and leisure (Redrock) and signposting between them – even perhaps colour coding zones – would help people have a richer experience of everything on offer.
Reflecting on the progress made to date the BID has devised a 30-strong Frog statue art trail entitled a Giant Leap Forward. Paul Taylor outlined the idea which was to offer sponsorship of the frogs to businesses and organisations, position them around the town in a Trail to be explored and then auction them for charity. “It feels just the right time to be acknowledging how far we have come in a fun, engaging and entertaining way and looking forward.”
Jo Shippen MD of merchandising business Hatters Promotions, also remarked that advocacy from the people in the room – in work and at home with families was crucial. “People can see buildings and environmental improvement, but it’s word of mouth that will continue to make the most difference.”
Summing up Rhys Owen from Orbit said that ensuring people joined up their thinking and efforts and communicated well would be crucial in the next few years. “We have changed perceptions of Stockport for the better, without doubt, and people are now being drawn to its offer which makes it so much easier to convert them into business tenants, or new retailers, or residents or just visitors from out of town. But we need to keep going with all the necessary investment – time, money and energy – as the rewards are clear to see.”