The work to rejuvenate and improve Market Place began in earnest last week with the arrival of the main contractors, Armitage Construction on site.
As the pictures below show, work is well underway with major demolition already complete – they’ve ripped everything out, right down to the kitchen sink!
Whilst to the casual observer the scheme might seem simple – simply demolish what’s there and build something, new this scheme has taken a lot of time and dedication to come to fruition as the blog below will hopefully show.
Where the plans started
Plans for the regeneration of Market Place began all the way back in… well… it’s hard to say, but as early as 1982 the Prescot Town Centre Action Area Local Plan (see the vintage copy below) identified the “paved area in front of the public toilets” as a possible extension for the Prescot Market.
The Market Place scheme itself was completed in 1966 but by the 1970s it was already showing itself to be an underused and uninteresting area of the town – as shown by this poor quality photo taken from the top of St Mary’s Church Tower.
Since then numerous schemes have been proposed and there has always been a desire for something better to be done with the space as evidenced by this 1997 programme found languishing in a council archive. These of course were the days before fancy blogs, websites and social media and the public consultation included an option for posting replies using snail mail (remember that?).
The Townscape Heritage Initiative
Back in 2010 Knowsley Council first looked at pursuing a Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) scheme for Prescot.
First, a bit about THIs:
Townscape Heritage Initiative schemes are funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. THIs offer funding for comprehensive and targeted programmes of repair, re-use and enhancement of historic urban areas. Under the THI individual building owners may apply for a grant from the pool of funding and the local authority and other major partners may carry out direct works to buildings in their ownership or to the public realm. As part of that scheme Market Place was targeted as a priority site.
During the appliation process a ‘priority map’ was drawn up by the council. This involved a survey of the entire town centre and the identification of key sites and collections of buildings based on their historic importance and quality. This priority map (see below) clearly identified Market Place as a key area of public realm that could benefit from the THI treatment.
The official bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund stated that: “A small scale, quality development and usable public space will convert this area from a blight and unattractive gap site in the street scene to an attractive part of the towns historic core.”
Market Place may seem slightly out of the way from the main shopping area of Prescot Today, but that paved area was once home to not only the Prescot Market Hall but also the old Town Hall as seen in this early photograph taken from Kemble Street.
Although the buildings at Market Place are not very historical (1966 toilet block anyone?) it was recognized that the site as a whole was a vital part of the historic environment and the location, adjacent to the church, was of great historic importance. For that reason it was deemed acceptable that Heritage Lottery Fund money could be used to enhance it.
What began then, would turn into eight years of planning, funding calculations, surveys, consultations and discussions to bring the vision of this to fruition. Market Place was the largest of three public realm schemes identified in Prescot, the first was Leyland Street and secondly Atherton Street which were completed in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
One of the aspects of the entire THI has been the involvement of the local community, and Market Place was no exception. At each stage of the process a
In 2016 we undertook a public consultation with PlacED running a consultation at the Elizabethan Fayre and then workshops with local people. All the feedback was gathered and turned into a 48 page report: http://www.prescotthi.org.uk/marketplace/downloads/market-place-full-report.pdf.
The design competition
This led to a briefing report that was put together as part of a tender package for a public competition hosted by the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
Architects from across the globe (really!) submitted their proposals and after careful thought and scrutiny the 42 entries were whittled down to a final five.
The 5 shortlisted teams were as follows:
•Blackstaff Architects, Belfast
•Charles Tashima Architecture, London
•Mark Wray Architects, Bath with Seed Landscape.
•OMI Architects, Manchester
•Periscope Studio, London
The winners were Mark Wray Architects and Seed Landscape. Following their winning proposal last year a furious period of refinement, consultation and improvement took place. Consultations were taken with local highways department, local Police and Fire & Rescue, Streetscene, Licencing and of course the nearby St Mary’s Church – a Grade I listed building.
The search for a new tenant
The next stage was the selection of a tenant for the new cafe/building on the site. This again went out to tender with some very strict rules: -
The tenant should be able to drive footfall into Market Place and can specifically:
Pro-actively manage a programme of events and activities to take place on the open space in front of the premises. This can range from performances, festivals to seasonal markets
Make the business part of the social life of the town by allowing the multi-use room to be used by community groups for events, activities and exhibitions
Allow and encourage the building or space to be used for community or cultural activity on evenings and weekends where required and reasonable
Potential interest in using the building or space has been sought from existing community and cultural groups
There were some very, very strong contenders for this but the competition was ultimately won by MATE Productions who intend to create their own MATE Bistro and cultural event space.
MATE are a local Prescot company, established in the year 2000 to fill the need for a local quality community theatre company. From this they have grown to become a highly respected and sought after ensemble playing all manner of shows. Their highly praised ‘Treasure Island’ even made it to the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. With the new cafe/bistro the MATE team hope to bring their energetic and exciting cultural events and outdoor performances to the streets of Prescot.
Peeling back the years…
At the heart of this scheme has been the understanding that this is a historic area. As such before a single stone was removed it was thought prudent to carry out an archaeological dig. Led by Dr Rob Philpott and supervised by Prof. Harold Mytum but with the help of volunteers and locals the investigative dig took place. You can find out more about the results of the dig at Harolds website here.
At the same time as the archaeology was getting underway the official ‘tender package’ went out to builders and contractors. This package invited companies to tender for the scheme in a competitive process. This was won by Armitage Construction – a north west based company who have worked on some highly prestigious sites such as Quarry Bank Mill (image below), Elizabeth Gaskells House and Jodrell Bank!
Dr Rob Philpott will be retained as the on-site archaeologist as the work gets underway, making sure that as the foundations go in, no historically important elements are damaged. After that, he will write a report which will be made publicly available on this blog.
So… that is where we are now. The JCB is on site, the old toilet block has been demolished and the site is being cleared. Over the next few months there will be many more changes to occur which we will hopefully document on this blog.
Market Place is the biggest and most expensive single project of the Prescot THI but is firmly part of the wider project to regenerate Prescot and ensure that through the strength of its past it has a great future.
In recognition of this, Prescot is due to be put forward for THE GREAT BRITISH HIGH STREET AWARDS to celebrate its thriving independent retail scene of the THI has played a significant role. Keep your eyes peeled for promotional adverts and remember if you’re a twitterer, us the hashtag #myhighstreet on your positive Prescot tweets.