Letter board on a brick wall inside Bask bar that reads "STOCKPORT ISN'T SHIT!"

The Meteor is documenting life in each of Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs, aiming to capture the bits other reports don’t reach. This month we went to Stockport, to see what quirks and delights the town has to offer.

Mersey Square, Stockport, on a sunny winter day. The Plaza is in the centre of the background, and the Merseyway shopping centre is on the left. In the foreground, there are a load of pigeons sitting on railings.
The pigeons love it

Arriving in Stockport by rail, you’re welcomed by a sign in Bask bar proclaiming “Stockport isn’t shit!”

The Bakers Vaults pub in Stockport, a detached building with a small patio area out front, just off a cobbled street.
Bakers Vaults

With a low bar set for our adventure, we headed into the town centre to discover exactly what isn’t shit about the region’s most southerly borough.

Stockport indoor market,  a large Victorian warehouse in a similar style to Campfield Market in Manchester.
Stockport indoor market

A recent Guardian article details Stockport’s up-and-coming businesses and attractions, and the town is certainly in a moment of change. The land upon which Bask stands was recently home to a cinema, bowling alley and nightclub, and before that, a car park. The swimming pool, careers centre and half a dozen restaurant units (some closed down) remain. A new leisure hub has opened up on the other side of town, near the motorway, and seems to be doing alright.

A view of Merseyway shopping centre undergoing refurbishment. The shot is taken from below an undercroft in front of the ground-floor shops, next to hoardings concealing the ongoing building works.
Merseyway shopping cenre

A stroll through the retail district reveals a similar picture. There’s a fair amount of new stuff appearing, but there’s a lot of empty shops as well. Only time will tell if these new ventures become permanent features, and in these uncertain times there’s an air of apprehension, as well as opportunity.

Stockport Hat Museum on the left of the shot, in an imposing mill building, next to the bus station. The sky is clear and blue, and the sun is just behind the mill.
The Hat Museum sits next to a partially-reconstructed bus station

The Hat museum’s right next to the bus station (both undergoing redevelopment), and following the underpass below the A6 takes you to Mersey Square, flanked by the majestic art deco Plaza Theatre and cinema.

Stockport's plaza theatre at night, lit up in red and green lights.
Stockport Plaza theatre

Juxtaposed with the restored Plaza is the Merseyway shopping centre built straddling the river Mersey on its own stilts. The shopping centre looks tired but is currently undergoing a partial facelift.

The auditorium inside Stockport's Plaza theatre. The stage is lit up blue, and the tiered seating sits below 1920s-style decor and lighting. It's beautiful and sensitive to the original design.
Inside the Plaza

Squeezed between the Plaza and the shopping centre is Chestergate which leads visitors to the Underbanks. This area lost out to the competition from Merseyway when it arrived in 1965, but has been fighting its way back to its former glory with the reinvention of the area’s historic buildings and streets.

Looking down Rostron Brow in Stockport at night. There's a building site with black hoardings on the left, alongside a blue plaque related to the location. There's a Victorian-style lighting standard at the top of this alleyway, illuminating the descent down a cobbled path, and the steps up to a building on the right.
Rostron Brow, off Churchgate

Nowadays the area is full of independent restaurants, bars and shops, perhaps seeking a new audience, or to convert an existing one.

A cafe on Little Underbank. It has a large  window with many customers seated inside, and grey window frames and shopfront. There are a couple of smal tables and chairs out front.
A cafe on Little Underbank

Stockport’s residents seem happy so far with the town’s progress and new-found confidence.

The Good Life grocers, a shop with a blue front on a steep street.
The Good Life grocers

Simon, 29, a waiter from Bistro Marc in Little Underbank said that as he grew up in the area a night out meant going into Manchester city centre, but now there is a healthy nightlife of bars and restaurants in Stockport centre.

Simon, a waiter at bistro Marc. He has red hair and a tattooed left arm. He wears a black work t-shirt and black jeans
Simon from Bistro Marc

Roger Downing, who works at the World War Two air raid shelters, carved into the sandstone cliffs that run adjacent to Underbank, has lived in Stockport all his life and concurs that the area has triggered a revival in the town’s fortunes.

Looking into a tunnel leading to the air raid shelters dug into the natural sandstone under the town. The tunnels are arched and lined with brick, and there is a poster on the left-hand wall that reads "Hitler will send no warning - so always carry your gas mask" accompanied by a picture of two hands holding a gas mask.
Stockport WWII air raid shelters

“When I was a kid Stockport was full of old mills and semi-derelict old factories. It’s changed over the years but the indoor market is still thriving and there is a lot going on up at the top [of Underbank]. You can see Stockport is at a turning point, there is a lot of building and redeveloping going on. The Underbanks area is becoming trendy. In fact there is a local piece of artwork that says Stockport is the New Berlin!”

A mural on the side of a building on Royal Oak Yard, Stockport. It has a dark background and comprises buddleia flowers, fishes, buttons and a milepost.
A mural in the Underbanks

Perhaps they meant the German Doner Kebab restaurant near the Portwood roundabout, rather than the hipster vibes the town is giving off. Either way, it looks like Stockport lives up to its promise: it’s definitely not shit.

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All images: Gary Roberts

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  • Gary Roberts

    A photojournalist and writer who covers conservation and social issues worldwide. Founder of worldwidefeatures.com. Education background includes BSc Zoology at Leeds University and an MSc at The University of Manchester in International development poverty, conflict and reconstruction. Gary studied and later taught photojournalism at Speos Photographic institute. His work has involved numerous conservation and social justice groups including The Fairtrade foundation, Oxfam, ABRU Animal Behaviour Research Unit, SOS Lynx, Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, TANAPA, and APOPO. Publications include UK National and International Press.


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