About a year ago I gave an update on what the still-new THI had achieved in its first nine months. We’re now a third of the way through the five years of the THI, which is about the right time for a progress report and a bit of end-of-year navel-gazing.
I was just looking through what I wrote last year and it dawned on me that looking at the photo of 5-7 Eccleston Street then compared to now pretty much sums up how the town centre in general is starting to feel.
5-7 Eccleston Street in 2013 (left) and 2014 (right) – new shops at ground floor and investment in the building: all privately funded, no THI involvement.
One thing that has struck me is that there are more shops in the main shopping streets of Prescot now than during the 21 months I have been working in Prescot. In the early days of the THI it seemed that for every shop that opened, another closed, but now there’s barely an empty unit on any of Eccleston Street, Leyland Street, High Street or Market Place. Are these the ‘green shoots of recovery’ that were bandied about in the press earlier this year? Or does it show that there is renewed confidence in Prescot Town Centre as a place to shop or pass the time? The photo of 5-7 Eccleston Street today illustrates this perfectly with this formerly empty building now housing two businesses (all completely without any funding from the THI I might add). It also shows part the trend for the types of business moving into or around Prescot: independent and local. It’s encouraging that entrepreneurs are willing to take the plunge and set up shop in Prescot.
I’ll stick my neck out and even suggest a lot of the new or relocated businesses are targeting the female pound: beauticians’, hairdressers’, tanning salons, eyelashes, clothes, jewellery and accessories, nail bars, hair extensions, crafts and gifts… It feels like the town centre is finding its own niche among the ‘leisure destinations’, ‘lifestyle centres’, and out-of-town and internet hypermarkets of this world, and long may this niche-carving continue.
The other really encouraging thing is the number of shops that have relocated within the town centre within the last year – this shows that businesses are staying loyal to the town centre because being there is working for them. I understand that many leases within the Shopping Centre are now coming to an end and this could well see the renewal of some leases and new businesses moving into vacant units.
The smartening up of the building in the photo this year compared to last year illustrates how improvements and investment are afoot without any THI involvement:
The wall art at the corner of Leyland Street and Eccleston Street, commissioned by the Prescot Town Team.
- The Parish Church has been re-roofed and repaired using locally raised funds and contributions from the HLF and English Heritage,
- Vivark’s Win a Shop competition has brought a prominent commercial unit on Eccleston Street back into use at the beginning of the year and no less importantly Vivark has recently has announced the winner of ‘Win a Shop 2’ which will re-use a unit within the Shopping Centre,
- the Town Team has brightened up a corner of the town centre with its eye-catching wall art,
- the Town Council has moved into its new Town Hall and good use is being made of its function and meeting rooms
- this year’s tenth Prescot Festival was the biggest and most successful yet,
- the Friends of Prescot Cemetery and Churchyard have gone from strength to strength improving the area and having a new memorial unveiled and dedicated;
- the business-led Knowsley Place Board, is actively and creatively promoting Knowsley as a place to live in, invest in or visit, with Prescot one of its key assets
- Knowsley Housing Trust has started work on redeveloping the former Lancashire Watch Factory site
- Knowsley Safari Park reported a 10% rise in visitor numbers for the year
- Prescot became less ‘secretly posh’ (well, I think it hides it posh-ness) with the opening of a branch of Marks and Spencer’s
On top of all this, earlier this month the Shakespeare North Trust has returned to the fold with a public consultation event for its proposed theatre, college campus and all-round hub of all things cultural at the top of Market Place. The planning application is to be submitted in the New Year and no doubt represents a crucial phase in the fund-raising and realisation of this scheme, which would have a huge impact on the wider town centre.
I’ve gone a bit off topic – just realised I was supposed to be talking about the THI, but it’s hard to talk about it in isolation because it doesn’t work in isolation. But what has it done in the last 12 months?
A Strong Partnership Board
Although the original plan was for the Board to meet every other month to consider THI grant applications and be updated on the THI’s progress, the THI has proceeded at such a rate there were monthly meetings in order to cope with the volume of full and outline grant applications for the Board to consider. I thank our Board members for their time and dedication to the THI.
The First Building Projects
I was delighted when we got to the stage where we had not one, but two building conversion / repair / restoration projects starting within a fortnight of each other. Five new homes, two new double shopfronts, around £400,000 of investment, ‘conservation exemplar’ repair and restoration – whichever way you slice it, it’s good news for the town centre and its conservation area.
40 High Street, before THI-funded works and how it looked the other day. We’re getting there!
Personally it’s been fantastic to see these projects move forward little by little day by day and for the ‘real’ Prescot to emerge as the buildings return to their former states. It’s been a pleasure working with the building owners, the architects, the contractors and subcontractors to do right by these little gems of buildings.
The Next Building Projects
We have two more THI building projects waiting in the wings to start in the first quarter of 2015. If I say which, I’ll probably jinx them. This blog will be the first place to find out about them.
There are also another nine buildings with outline grant approval. So much of what happens is beyond our control in terms of whether particular building projects come forward or not, but I’ll be doing my best in 2015 to help as many of these as I can to get through the full grant application process and to start on site. I believe that three of them will progress to the planning application stage in early 2015.
Despite the general high level of interest in the THI grants, there is still a small handful of Priority Building owners that I have yet to even speak to despite my best efforts to get in touch. If you are one of these, please drop me a line!
The Next Public Realm Improvements
While the work at Leyland Street finished way back in October 2013, work has been going on behind the scenes to get everything in place for the improvement of Atherton Street and its junction with Eccleston Street. This is due to commence in March 2015 and will be very much like Leyland Street in terms of the use of quality natural paving. We’ve got a draft design and budget, and the preliminary nod to proceed from the HLF
The Heritage Hub
The move to bigger better premises at 53 Eccleston Street earlier this year has been a real boost to the Prescot Heritage Hub and the Prescot Historical Society. My own part-of-the-week office is upstairs there too. A paint job to the outside and a hand-painted sign show that you can really lift a building without doing much heavy work. We had very successful open days during the Summer and in 2015 we will be open on a more regular basis.
The First Historic Intern
We interviewed for this paid 12-month post back in March and so far Chris, the first Historic Environment Intern has been in post for four months now, carefully balancing the demands of a studying a Masters in Historic Building Conservation and Regeneration with writing conservation area appraisals and management plans here in our office.
Having Chris work with us on the THI and historic environment work, has gone really well – we will be advertising for another 12-month paid internship (with paid-for study) in the first half of 2015.
The Heritage, Leisure and Culture Workstream
In my former life as a Conservation Officer I didn’t ‘do’ masses of work with the community. The existence of this group means I meet regularly with a network of community representatives (including the business community). This simple act of meeting and sharing information means I know what’s going on in and around the Town Centre and that people know what the THI is up to. The Workstream is also making headway in co-ordinating and publicising activity in the town as well as the town itself, this should become more apparent over the next 12 months as the things that have been ticking away and building up come to the surface.
From my vantage point here in 2014 I can see an eventful 2015 for Prescot, not only as the THI continues to gain momentum and deliver more of its intended outputs, but also as our partners and other town centre interests deliver their own investments, events and initiatives across the year.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!