A run down part of Stockport’s Merseyway shopping precinct is to be transformed into a ‘21st century library and discovery centre’.
The £14.5m makeover – paid for by the government’s Future High Streets Fund (FHSF) – has long been controversial as it means moving the current central library from its historic home on the A6.
The future of that Grade-II listed building is still to be thrashed out, with a debate pencilled in for Thursday night’s full council meeting.
But town hall bosses are determined to ‘plough on’ with the new library – provisionally dubbed ‘Stockroom’.
It will ‘repurpose’ units in Mereseyway’s Adlington Walk, with other facilities also including a performance area, sensory room and cafe among others.
Stockroom will be big enough to house Central Library’s entire collection – while will be distribued throughout the hub – as well as having room for an further 5,000 titles.
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Councillor David Meller, cabinet member for economy and regeneration, says Stockroom is going to play a huge part in the ongoing £1bn regeneration of the town centre.
“We have £14.5m to change this particular space into something that can be really inspirational for people,” said Coun Meller.
And the town hall boss says it will help Stockport make the shift from a mainly retail-focused town centre, to one that provides a hub for the community.
“We either don’t do anything and leave it as it is – because I don’t think anyone is going to come and take it off us anytime soon, as much as we would like that,” he said.
“Or we plough on and get it done. I think it’s time to plough on really – it’s ready to go.”
With regeneration of Town Centre West – also known as the MDC – taking off and a new transport interchange also due to open in 2024, Coun Meller believes Stockroom has a major role to play in the town centre’s future.
“It’s going to be completely different here and as the MDC is coming on more and we will have the transport interchange as well.
“This is going to be the focal point for the town centre. I’m really excited about it,” he said.
Below is how the struggling Adlington Walk area is set for a huge overhaul under the Stockroom project.
Adlington Walk entrance from Great Underbank
Never a well-used entrance to Merseyway, the plan here is to remove the ‘big ugly unit’ in the centre of the current facade, while others are given a radical makeover.
Bosses hope the work will make the centre ‘more outward facing’, with better links to Chestergate, Underbanks, Market Place and – ultimately – the new transport interchange.
Shops in this area of Merseyway have always been among the most difficult to let.
However the Post Office will remain where it is and should complement plans for Stockroom to operate as a community hub.
“It adds to what we want to do in terms of the services on offer,” said Coun Meller.
Reception area and ‘best in class toilet facilities’.
This is in the area of the former Pound Empire store.
New stairs and lift will take people from Merseyway’s rooftop car park and into a new hotel lobby-style reception.
Also in this area will be Stockroom’s ‘best in class’ toilet and changing facilities.
These will be fully accessible and meet the needs of people with more severe disabilities, and those of their families and carers.
A new concierge point will provide advice and guidance to visitors to the town, while other facilities in this part of the scheme include a multi-faith prayer room and play area.
The suspended ceilings will be removed and a new partition installed to divide the welcome area from the toilet block.
From the lobby people can enter Adlington Walk itself, is set to become a much more ‘open’ than it is currently.
Bosses believe this will be ‘far more welcoming’ than at present and create a ‘real point of animation’.
And there will also be passenger information boards showing train and bus service times – which could possibly link to people’s phones.
Community wellbeing services will be based close to where Vision Express is now, with talks currently being held with public health chiefs on what could be offered.
Consultation pods could include vaccine clinics, blood donation and smoking cessation services.
Also being repurposed is the former Martin Dawes unit which has now been vacant for a number of years.
Its proximity to sister-project Stock – the repurposed former M&S and BHS stores – is not lost on Coun Meller.
“The minute we have got this done and Stock is open the, offer is going to link together,” he said.
“The whole point is we get people into Stock to visit here and vice-versa. They will feed off each other.”
When Stockroom is closed the space can still be accessible as a thoroughfare and the the toilet facilities will remain open.
This is the former Mothercare store – and where council bosses believe the scale of Stockroom really becomes apparent.
It is double height – the suspended ceilings will be stripped out – has a basement area and is envisaged as having a similar feel to Chester’s Storyhouse.
It features a performance space, but with seating that can removed to allow other activities to take place. For example, visiting school parties could use it as an area to have their lunch.
It is also earmarked for displaying display museum artefacts and ‘audio-visual’ facilities which will help people to ‘engage with their heritage’.
In a similar vein bosses say ‘a very high quality facility’ that will ‘open up access to archives’ that are currently stored away.
This space will also host a children’s library where the old early learning centre was.
Council bosses say the aim is to make ‘a really nice space’ for children and parents – who are among Mereseyway’s main ‘clientele’.
Coun Meller believes replacing the old Early Learning Centre with a new children’s libray epitomises the Stockroom project
“That sums everything up in terms of what we are trying to do here,” he said.
Event space and cafe
This is where the former Players Entrance sports bar used to be.
It’s a double-sided unit, and the partition will be taken out and again the suspended ceilings will be removed to create ‘a totally different feel’.
An acoustic technician working on plans for the area to ensure it is not too noisy and has the right ‘ambience’.
The cafe will be at the far end of the ground floor while upstairs will be the ‘event space’ for marriages and other commitment ceremonies.
This could also be used for business meetings and, potentially, some councill meetings.
Chiefs say this will make Merseyway livelier and a more attractive high street for visitors to walk through.
There will also be work spaces that could accommodate workers from up to 50 business, similar to Broadstone Mill.
Town hall bosses say having these staff spending money in the town centre this will help support existing retailers and other businesses.
The council has been working with interior design studio Space Invader, which was involved in the £48m refurb of Manchester’s Central Library.
And for Coun Meller, that is the key comparison.
“We brought Space Invader on board to work with us. Their work on Central Library to bring it right up to the 21st century was second to none,” he said.
“We want to harness that and have something that doesn’t currently exist and hasn’t currently existed for many, many years.”