In the second feature on how art is making positive changes in the West End of Morecambe, reporter NICK LAKIN finds out about other exciting projects that have recently got off the ground...
Over the last 15 years, £30m of public and private money has been invested in the West End of Morecambe to buy properties in multiple occupation and remodel them into family homes.
Lancaster City Council said the goal has been to improve residential areas and encourage people to live and invest in the West End.
Coun Janice Hanson, cabinet member with responsibility for planning and regeneration, said the increasing growth of the arts community is an example of how all this work is now bearing fruit.
Notwithstanding the many long term issues the West End faces, and how to rebuild a British seaside holiday industry that went out with the tide during the 80s and 90s and got stuck on Spanish shores, there are reasons to be cheerful.
Becky Burns recently opened Textile Candy in Yorkshire Street, but will soon be moving to bigger premises in Alexandra Road.
Becky has just returned from Ghana in Africa sourcing jewellery and materials for the shop.
“I had always been enamoured with the idea of having a shop but never considered it a plausible plan for the future,” she said.
“I quit my senior design job in Switzerland and moved back to my family home in November 2017 and needed some space, outside of my bedroom, to start my business/use for my freelance work.
“I saw a post on Facebook about a shop on Yorkshire Street. The monthly rent was only £150 which is the same as most studio spaces in Lancaster, so I decided to go for it.
“I had no business rates and a rolling contract which allowed me to pay my rent monthly without being locked into a fixed contract.”
Becky admitted that while there certainly wasn’t a “vibrant trading industry” in the West End, she believes that it could easily become an independent shopping destination comparable to coastal towns like Margate.
“In the near future I would love the West End of Morecambe to be a creative, manufacturing and small business hub with local makers working in a cottage industry framework,” she said.
“Lancashire was once a manufacturing hub, although a great deal of UK manufacturing has been exported overseas, we are seeing a resurgence of people valuing handmade, locally and ethical products.”
Taking this idea of “local and ethical” and running with it, Christian and Joanne Ainscough from Morecambe are aiming to open a zero waste shop called Zero Emporium in the West End. They say they’ve been inspired by the arts based regeneration and community spirit.
The couple are following examples of other similar businesses across the country to sell loose products like pasta, rice, shampoo and conditioner to customers who bring their own containers, to cut down on plastic waste.
They’ll be launching their own Crowdfunder soon to help get them started.
Tracy Kohl, managing director of West End Impact, which has supported the community in the West End since 2002 through outreach work and art, recently launched The Restore in Yorkshire Street.
It aims to give a platform for people to create art or upcycle items to sell.
Tracy said: “The Restore is our newest project, but it’s been bubbling for a few years.
“The vast majority of people we deal with are unemployed in a very deprived area.
“The project has evolved so that we give retail experience, people can make their own products, learn how to sell online and in the shop, and inspire people to set up their own business.
“The Job Centre sends regular placements, and we also get student placements from the university.
“We’ve always been working towards the regeneration of the West End.
“We’ve got enough empty shops and if we can get niche shops along Yorkshire Street, it will completely change the economy and tourism in the area.”
The Restore is now looking into setting up “shop-shares” where budding entrepeneurs can share space inside shops for as little as £30 a week.
But Tracy says there are still issues with absent landlords in the West End, and a coordinated approach is needed to get the many boarded up shops back into use.
Matt Panesh, director of Morecambe Fringe, has opened ALT-SPACE in a previously boarded up shop in Yorkshire Street, a pop-up venue with drop in sessions, comedy nights, performance workshops, and a promotions agency for artists.
Matt said: “We want to take you from start to Star!
“The Fringe is where local performers show their work alongside national and international talent.
“We decided we needed to build a factory, like Andy Warhol’s, a place where local artists can create and perform.
“Anyone can drop by and take part. We run on donations so although it’s free to get in, getting out is another matter!”
At The Alhambran Theatre back on the prom, manager Tracy Brown is setting up an exhibition of her father Tony Wiles’ work in the newly renovated bar area.
Others are setting up the huge main room space for a show that evening.
Tracy is optimistic about the future in the West End.
“My dad grew up here and it means a lot to me,” she said.
“The feeling is that we’ve grown so much, we link in so much, we will support eachother, and everyone tries to help where they can.
“At the moment this is like the big community centre, and it’s like we can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Current plans for The Alhambra include an outside bar and outside seating at the front of the building, making it look more appealing and attractive from the promenade.
On November 1, West End Million will be hosting an event at The Alhambra to share its three year action plan.
Topics will include future funding and partnership working, including ways in which different groups can contribute to shared goals.
The event will run between 11am and 2pm, and free refreshments will be available.
Coun Janice Hanson, Cabinet member with responsibility for planning and regeneration, said: “The emergence of a number of local groups focused on the creative industries is bringing a new dynamic to improve the area, the economy and the community.
“The council is keen to support this growth and recently worked with Hack Morecambe, who held an event in a disused garage on Back Winterdyne Terrace, behind the already cleared Bold Street site.
“While the long term aim is to clear this area for future development, in the meantime we welcome any ideas for how the building can be utilised while plans are progressed.
“We are also working with the Exchange and earlier this year submitted a £40k bid to the Coastal Revival Fund to work up proposals for a community led refurbishment of the Co-op building on Regent Road.
“This could potentially see the building developed as much-needed business space, with opportunities for artist studios, which would help to breathe new life into the area.
“Coupled with the excellent work by Place First on the flagship West End One scheme, which has delivered 47 new homes, and West End Two, due for completion in early 2019, redeveloping the Co-op building would provide another fillip and aid prosperity in one of Morecambe’s most historic neighbourhoods.”