Creative spirit is the the driving behind the re-invention of Stockport
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 July 2018
This town is blossoming, thanks to massive investment and a truly creative spirit
Jennifer Samuel-Bryan, fine artist and manager of EPOK Artist Studies and Gallery
Dan Hett, Digital Artist photographed in the gallery space at EPOK Artist Studios and Gallery
Linda Robinson, Mary Stott and Jean Cowlard
Where the Light Gets In; Mike White, Lorcan Kan, Emma Tyler, Martino Cuozzo, Kathryn Wood, Alice Gray, Josh McAulty, Chloé Frejaville, Sam Buckley holding baby Ray and Esperanza A Lopez
St Peter's Square
Looking toward one of the entrances to Merseyway Shopping Centre
Stockport Town Hall
Businesses along Market Place
View toward St Mary's in the Marketplace
Stockport Town Hall
Stockport isn’t what it once was. For a start it has a fledgling restaurant scene that has gained worldwide attention, there are plans to do an Altrincham-style makeover on the market hall and investment in the town’s infrastructure and plans for the town’s Metrolink ready interchange have been unveiled.
The town’s re-invention is timely but has been helped by a creative spirit that has flourished in spite of the town’s decline.
Properties have been affordable in recent years and that means new businesses that were priced out of premises in Manchester or the more affluent parts of Cheshire have been able to open up - not only that, they’ve been able to thrive.
Where the Light Gets In, the experimental restaurant which GQ magazine called ‘The best restaurant you’ve never heard of’ has been in the town for 18 months and now has plans to expand on the ground floor with a cafe, bakery, shop and a wine cellar.
However, it wasn’t Stockport itself that drew chef Sam Buckley to the town but the building which now houses Where The Light Gets In.
His friends at nearby Agapanthus Interiors who sell antique lighting all over the world and who also specialise in interior design for restaurants suggested the building and while Sam wasn’t impressed by the neglected interior he saw its potential.
‘We came to see it and it certainly wasn’t like this. It was prefabed up with plaster board and there were about four rooms and a staircase covered in a glass mezzanine,’ he explains.
‘ It was completely different but you could see this corner where the brick was exposed and you could see the vaulted roof. It was dank and derelict but when I woke up the next morning I just had this plan, for the upstairs, the cafe and for the wine bar in the cellar. And it was more to overcome the fact it was in Stockport.
‘It took more tenacity from me and my friends to overcome the fact it was Stockport, as the name comes with certain connotations.’
Now he’s discovered that in many ways the location has worked in their favour.
‘The restaurant does well in Stockport because it’s a bit more freaky. It’s another string to its unusual bow that it’s in this town,’ he says.
‘Naturally it’s a destination restaurant. It was always going to be a destination restaurant. If you look around here I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful. There’s so much character in these little cobbled streets, so it’s an anomaly.’
Where the Light Gets In has not only been a draw for diners but for the chefs who have travelled from all over the world including Italy, Australia, Sweden and Canada to be part of the team.
Sam and partner Chloe had a baby daughter called Ray a few months ago and that has slowed down plans to open the cafe in the summer.
‘We need the cafe to be able to move forward with what we want to do and talk about environmental issues and food issues,’ says Sam
‘I’d say all of this is a platform to try to make people wake up a bit about where their food comes from and to treat where that food comes from with a bit more respect and a bit more responsibility as well.
‘I feel really sad that we have to charge as much as we do in order to convey that message. So if we have a cafe along with the strength of this then if you come in for a loaf of bread and you’re interested in how we make the bread and it’s being made at that moment there’ll be a spare apron for you to put on and it will then turn into a workshop, so what we will have is an interactive culinary centre.’
Another enterprise that has thrived in Stockport has been the Epok artist studio on Wellington Road South run by artist Jennifer Samuel-Bryan.
It’s nearly two years since Jennifer took over the building and transformed it into an artists’ workshop and event space.
‘I quite liked the Manchester area but it is too pricey and this has such good transport links so it was an obvious choice and every time my mum has come here we’ve really enjoyed exploring the town,’ she reveals.
‘It’s strange as it’s a place of two halves. It’s got Merseyway and all the old business buildings and then there are these old gems. We looked at a lot of properties and then we found this one. It’s so convenient and close to everything. There’s Burnham Mill arts studios , we’ve got the arches across the road and the art gallery there as well so there seems to be a nice little collection of art places.’
Epok has three art studios upstairs and an event space which works as a workshop space and also a venue space. They also hold exhibitions and Jennifer and fellow artist Karis Lambert will exhibit their work at a gallery show from July 6th.
Jennifer is impressed by how the town has changed in the time she’s spent there.
‘Even in the last two years it has really changed with the vegan restaurant, The Allotment and where the Light Gets in. The Baker’s Vaults pub has also been transformed and with the Foodie Fridays there just seems to be much more of a buzz. People used to leave and go to Manchester. Now they spend nights out here.
‘People who live here ask why I’m here but there’s a big community spirit. Lots of people helped me out when I came here and there’s a general atmosphere of helping people out to make the whole place better. The council has been supportive and there’s a lot of energy into making it good, rather than leaving it as is.’
Jean Cowlard, Mary Stott and Linda Robinson - all from Stockport - were enjoying a sunny day in the town and had headed up to the market square after enjoying afternoon tea in the Art Deco dining room at the Stockport Plaza theatre.
Jean agreed that there had been changes in the town: ‘The markets are not as busy but we do come for the Foodie Fridays which have been fabulous, really good.’
They all thought plans to regenerate the market along the lines of Altrincham would have a very positive effect. Said Mary : ‘I think that will be very good for Stockport. It will attract people here having more eating places.
‘I think if the market was open more businesses would open. There has been a proper decline here from when we grew up. The market went straight up towards the rectory then. It needs regenerating.’
Jenny Nga, also shopping in the market place, grew up in Stockport before moving to London. She can see signs of regeneration.
‘There’s a lot been happening around the station and I think the completion of the new residential buildings in the town will bring in a young professional vibe. You see it happening already in the new developments which are now changing the whole town centre.’