Arriving in Stockport by rail, you’re welcomed by a sign in Bask bar proclaiming “Stockport isn’t shit!”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Nowadays the area is full of independent restaurants, bars and shops, perhaps seeking a new audience, or to convert an existing one.
Stockport’s residents seem happy so far with the town’s progress and new-found confidence.
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.
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.
“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!”
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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