“I’d go as far as to suggest turning half of the shops into housing and have fewer, higher-quality independent shops. Blooming Skull further down towards Aldi is a perfect example of a great local business with its own identity.”
They’re the words of Callum Peters, an Echo reader giving his thoughts on how New Ferry can be pulled back from the brink after the publication asked whether the town was the ‘most neglected’ on Merseyside.
As well as parking charge issues on the peninsula and a call for a reduction in business rates and rents, an independent retail revival is something that gets a lot of backing from Wirral residents to support local firms and grow communities – or ‘save Wirral’s high streets’ as the Echo suggests…
A boom of independent chains has been largely credited for the revival of Liverpool’s Bold Street, with local card schemes and other incentives helping grow the almost-bohemian spirit in the area as cafes, restaurants and small shops open and grow.
Can the same happen on the Wirral?
The Artisan Network thinks so. They’ve organised the Birkenhead Park Festival, taking place for three days at the end of April to promote the very best in local artists, craftspeople, food, drink and more.
“We aim to bring a festival for every member of the family, [and] we can’t have a festival without food!” a spokesperson says, highlighting that the family-friendly festival will have its own food-lovers’ village with sweet and savoury samples from the very best local and regional producers.
Kids, meanwhile, also have their own interactive zone featuring workshops, donkey rides and face painting to keep them entertained while parents sample some local craft tipple (responsibly, of course).
Also available is a medieval encampment where visitors can experience the trials faced by those in ancient times, while people can also learn new musical skills with rhythmic drumming sessions.
Local birds of prey will also be on display, while a special dog show and live music makes the festival one of the more interesting things to do on the Wirral that bank holiday weekend.
Tickets for the festival can be booked online with an adult ticket costing £3.50 (plus a 15p booking fee) with two adult tickets costing £6.00 if bought online. Children under 14 can get in for free, the festival is dog-friendly, and tickets can be bought at the gate on the day for £5.
Breaking the chains
That’s not to say the park is closed off that weekend. Birkenhead Park will still be open to the public, free of charge as always.
The Artisan Network say that they’re looking to enclose the large field between Park Road and Park Road East for the festival, and that management have been very helpful in allowing them to help local independents promote themselves to a wider audience.
It’s an excellent first step for young entrepreneurs to showcase themselves, and while we’re not convinced that the entire ‘Wirral high street’ needs rescuing as the Echo claims, there’s little argument that problems persist as New Ferry shows.
Closures of Vanilla Lounge in Hoylake, Three Olives and Rubis in West Kirby and other small traders shutting up shop also suggest the council could be doing a lot more to encourage interest in local areas.
That Subway, Domino’s and others take those units paints a picture. For those independents brave enough to put themselves out there to the public at events like the Birkenhead Park Festival, though, they’re getting out there, supporting the local community, showing off their talents, making new friends and being their own boss.
Whether or not they can do that full-time and create something truly amazing depends on the local support they receive, from both communities and council alike.
Birkenhead Park Festival, 29 – 30 April and 1 May 2017
Open from 11am – 6pm