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Empty shop scheme brings art gallery to Whitby Road, Ellesmere Port

17 December 2012

A new art gallery is set to open on Whitby Road, Ellesmere Port following the launch of a scheme to bring empty properties on the street back in to use.

Looking to target long-term vacant shops in the old high street of Whitby Road, the grant scheme aims to bring properties back into use, improve the appearance of the street, help increase footfall for the other shops, and support the regeneration of the wider area.

Landlords are asked to rent out their unused retail unit to local community interest groups for a two-year period, receiving a peppercorn rent and benefiting from a grant to bring the property back up to modern specifications in return.

Refurbishments works to 5 Whitby Road are now due to begin and the art gallery plans to open its doors to the public in May 2013.

Executive Member for Prosperity, Councillor Herbert Manley, said: “It’s really great news to hear that the scheme, only launched two months ago, has its first success story.

“The new art gallery will strengthen Ellesmere Port’s position on the cultural map, building upon the town’s successes this year including the newly established Creative and Services Industries of West Cheshire College earlier this year and news that the Methodist Art Collection will come to the Port in 2014.

“With the current economic climate Whitby Road has many unused retail outlets and encouraging landlords to claim this grant will not only improve the appearance of one of the main routes into the town but will bring properties back into use.

“I’m sure the gallery will attract interest from local residents, as well as those from further afield, with changing exhibitions of a wide variety of professional artwork and I wish it every success. I hope it will prove to be a sustainable business and gain an established, positive reputation.”

The owner of the property applied to the Council for a refurbishment grant for the long term vacant shop in the old high street of Ellesmere Port following the scheme’s launch in October.

The shop used to be a newsagent until it closed its doors in 2007, after 23 years of trading.

In return for the grant, the landlord has offered the Council the opportunity to nominate an organisation to use the shop on a peppercorn rent for two years and following a competitive process, the successful business plan was submitted by local artist Sonja Moss-Dolega.

Said Sonja: “This is a great opportunity for my team and I to put Ellesmere Port on the arts map. Our aim is to bring the arts to the town and its people. In the gallery, we are going to exhibit all kinds of artwork for sale and we want to encourage local artists and craftspeople to contribute.

“We also want to put on a variety of courses in things like pottery, drawing, painting and textiles. As I myself live in the town, I am really looking forward to meeting people and getting them involved. I want to help them to bring out their own creativity. Sometimes people just don’t realise how talented they are. And doing art is proven to be a positive and relaxing activity for all of us if only we can find the time for it.”

Local member, Councillor Justin Madders, said: “Whitby Road has a considerable number of properties that have remained empty for a long time, something I know local residents would like to see change so it’s great that the first empty shop is going to be used again after years of the shutters being down.

“The art gallery will help to generate interest and footfall for all shops on Whitby Road, and as it is being set up by a local artist, will strengthen community links.

“I would urge landlords to take this opportunity to not only improve the appearance of Whitby Road, but to improve and modernise their own retail spaces. As one of the main approaches to the town it is vital that the view along Whitby Road is a positive as possible.”

The need to improve the appearance of Whitby Road’s shops had been identified in the Ellesmere Port Development Board’s Vision and Strategic Regeneration Framework – a document setting out economic, social and physical improvements to the town over the next ten years.

Residents have also raised the issue of empty shops in the town centre via the Council’s Our Place Neighbour Action Groups. The project has now been taken on the newly appointed Town Centre Improvements Manager.

The grant scheme is available to landlords of long-term vacant shops. So far a number of interests have been registered and another property is now available for community use on a peppercorn rent for a fixed term period.

For further information, or to request an application form, please contact Town Centre Improvement Manager Jochem Hollestelle by emailing jochem.hollestelle@cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk before January 31, 2013.