In the heart of an urban village on the outskirts of a large metropolis, a restored Victorian train station provides a welcome space for people who like to cycle and everyone else besides. Levenshulme is an inner-city suburb six minutes by train from Manchester city centre but very different in feel; a thriving, colourful place where lots of different communities live side by side collaborating and working together.
“The A6 runs right through Levenshulme, so a lot of people just travel through it, they don’t necessarily think about it as the district centre or a neighbourhood, but it very much is when you are living in it and know all that happens in it,” says Pauline Johnston, director of Station South, a community interest company.
The high street, like so many others, is in need of more investment and support, but thanks to places like the Levenshulme Inspire Community Centre (supported by Power to Change) and Levenshulme Market, a community run social enterprise transforming a car park every Saturday between March and September, there’s been a distinct shift, a buzz around Levenshulme, which has brought even more new business into the area and more people to visit.
Soon, Levenshulme will benefit from another exciting venue, a destination cycle café, bar, urban garden and active travel hub. A place where people can relax, socialise, work remotely and all this in a building the community have wanted to salvage for many years now.
“The people of Levenshulme really wanted to see the old station building brought back to life,” adds Pauline. “It was in a very bad way when we took it on. It sits in such a prominent position in the heart of Levenshulme, directly on the A6 and on top of the Fallowfield loop, an eight-mile undisturbed greenway. People have many stories to tell about its history and their connection with it.”
I think we built up the confidence of other businesses to open up with Station South’s ambitious plans to transform a beautiful but derelict building into a community hub and cycle cafe. It’s encouraged other businesses to make the step to open up at our end of the high street. Planters have gone in across the way with a number of businesses getting involved with greening their part of the highstreet.
We’re a destination that’s bringing people from further afield via people powered transport, to our high street by offering a range of facilities. In the coming months, we’ll be providing a place you can fix your bike or hire one plus other facilities that will bring people in and hopefully have a positive impact on the high street.
The value of community ownership and engagement on the high street is that there is accountability to the communities and you are shaping things in response to local needs. Having the advocacy of your extended community to support you through challenging times when you open is important.
Structural surveys showed that the once grand Victorian station was about five years from being no good to anyone; dilapidated to the point where it would probably have to be demolished, but thanks to an ambitious crowdfunding campaign and various large and small scale funding, the building has now been saved and the cycle café will open for business in early 2022.
“Our crowdfunding target was £50k, which a lot of people said was too high,” says Pauline. “But we all achieved and surpassed it by £16k! The community have shown how much they want this to succeed and helped build the momentum. That gave us a big boost too.
“We thought, ‘if we can get Levenshulme, which is not a particularly wealthy suburb to show this much support then we can work our hardest to find the rest of the money from somewhere else’. That gave us the energy to navigate the development for about a year and half afterwards! The community showing the building and us such faith. We can’t wait to pay them back with the space.”
Pauline and fellow directors, Mark and Abigail, set to work co-designing the station space and surrounding land with the community, devising a wish list of what they wanted the space to be. The big vision design came directly from the ambitions of the local community.
Funding was sought from several sources, and it was a Power to Change grant and loan package through Key Fund that plugged the remaining gaps, helping to pay for all the fixtures and fittings and covering the start-up and operational costs to ensure the café could open as hoped.
“It was absolutely vital for us. A lifeline. It had always been our intention to take out a social investment loan, but the grant base gives us a significant reduction on what we need to pay back on the loan over the course of the investment period. It gives us breathing space to become the best business we can become in those start up years.”
Those start up years look exciting, with plans to recruit 14 full-time equivalent jobs – a station crew from bike mechanics to a community project coordinator. And the team have multiple revenue streams lined up. The café/ bar will be open seven days a week and play host to a lot of events bringing together the world of cycling, active travel, nature, local community, enterprise and the arts.
The value of community ownership and engagement on the high street is that there is accountability to the communities and shaping things in response to local needs. Having the advocacy of your extended community to support you through challenging times when you open is important.
My vision for the high street is having you and your family’s needs met locally, whether this is accessing support, or a place to have stop and be, and have your say. Or it could be coming up with arts projects to help transform a space, giving people ownership over the space and ensuring they can have an impact on that space.