Buzz is back in Bootle as town looks forward to brave new world

Elizabeth Price outside Bootle Strand
Elizabeth Price outside Bootle Strand -Credit:Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.

The buzz is most definitely back in Bootle and it's not just Tom Jones who has set pulses racing.

Ever since Sefton Council purchased The Strand back in 2017, there has been a great deal of anticipation for the regeneration of Bootle town centre but there are now signs the work is starting to bear fruit.

The redevelopment plans, the opening of the new Salt and Tar venue and the imminent (and partial) demolition of The Strand are all visible indicators change has started to happen and progress is being made.

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With the opening of a major new venue, the launch of Bootle International Festival and the forthcoming demolition works, we visited Bootle town centre to get a sense of what local people think about what's happening, what they're excited about and what concerns they have.

Near to the entrance arch of The Strand are stood a group of men locked in a friendly discussion. Among them is Joseph Condron and his stepson, Jose who are visiting the shopping centre as the have done almost every day for well over two decades. Joseph calls it their 'daily pilgrimage'.

Joe calls himself an 'honorary scouser' because he came to Liverpool twenty years ago after moving over from his native Ireland. He's spent so much time in the city that he's actually developed a passable scouse accent and has taken Liverpool to his heart.

Joseph Condron and step-son, Jose
Joseph Condron and step-son, Jose -Credit:Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.

Asked his thoughts on The Strand and the upcoming demolition, Joe expresses mixed emotions. He said: "This place is part of our life. It's got a really good community so we come down, have a look at the shops and speak to some friends. It's like a daily pilgrimage.

"It's sad to see it changing, but I think it's had its time. It's now time to develop it and the plans I've seen look really good and it'll be a really positive thing for Bootle and the people who live here."

These are sentiments shared by his stepson, Jose who has lived in Bootle all his life. He said: "A lot of people around here have been coming here all their lives and some will like the change whilst others will be sad, but overall I think it's an exciting time.

"I'm really looking forward to see what's planned here and how the town will move forward."

With all the talk of what's to come, there are still plenty of people who remember what Bootle Strand used to be.

Doreen Turner has lived in Liverpool for twenty three years after moving down from Scotland. Doreen was born in Liverpool and all her family live here. She visits the Strand every day. Doreen said: "It's sad that a lot of the shops are going, and I'd like to see what they're going to replace them with. I do hear there's going to be a green area though, so we'll see what that looks like."

Doreen Turner outside Bootle Strand
Doreen Turner outside Bootle Strand -Credit:Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.

Barbara Tierney has been shopping on Stanley Street since before the Bootle Strand was even built. She said: "The Strand was absolutely fabulous back when it opened, just marvellous. It was a pleasure to come and see everything.

"But all the shops are closing that side so it's probably time to knock it down. It's sad to see especially when you remember what it once was.

"I must say the changes will be good for the young people with jobs and hopefully these changes will boost up the area a bit."

The Strand sits at the centre of Bootle and is the focal point for the residents. Many agree change was needed but it was clear any project to transform the area was a huge undertaking. There has been some disquiet about how long plans have taken to materialise, but the council has been eager to maintain transparency and adhere to the process.

A key milestone in the journey was the establishment of the ‘Our Future, Our Bootle’ Area Action Plan which sought to identify locations in the town where regeneration and investment were needed and help provide new homes, open spaces and job opportunities.

The historic shopping centre was purchased by Sefton in 2017 for £32.5m and the borough laid out plans for a landmark regeneration project to 'secure its future'. Plans were accelerated in March 2023 with the award of £20m as part of the government's Levelling Up fund.

Planning permission to demolish parts of the shopping centre was granted in December 2023 and the commencement of these works will represent the first phase of Bootle Strand's re-purposing.

Canalside of Bootle Strand
Canalside of Bootle Strand -Credit:Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.

They are plans which some are really looking forward to with many people ready to embrace a brave new world.

Margy is a stall holder and trader who operates within The Strand and she is as positive as anyone we spoke to about what the future holds. She said: "I think anything they do to revamp the place and encourage shoppers and other traders to come in is a really good thing.

"It is such a central place. A lot of people who live close by see the Strand like it's their corner shop.

"Some of the old people are a bit wary and might think change is bad but there's plenty of complaints about The Strand with people saying there's not much here.

"So, if they can do something to attract new shops you'll see something for young and old people. I have seen the plans but they keep changing so I'll wait and see when it's all done but there is a lot of potential for sure."

On the day we visit, people can be seen putting up posters directing people to the opening of Salt and Tar - a new music and arts venue on the bank of the canal next to Bootle Strand. It is a high-profile launch which has attracted music fans, food lovers and families. It is something which has received really positive feedback and will offer something different to the area.

It is certainly an attractive option to Craig and Sarah - a young couple who live locally and say they look forward to visiting the new venue and seeing what it has to offer. They've seen the plans for the town's redevelopment and say they look promising but are reserving judgement. Craig said: "The Strand is the biggest landmark in Bootle - maybe the only one - so the work needs to be done right. But change does need to happen.

Red Rum Club mural at Salt and Tar in Bootle
Red Rum Club mural at Salt and Tar in Bootle -Credit:Copyright Unknown

"The planned park will be a good idea and I like the creation of the new Salt and Tar venue which will bring something a little different. It'll be nice to stay here and go out locally - see some live music or comedy because there used to be a vibrant night life scene in Bootle so hopefully we'll see that again."

Attracting younger people and expanding the night time economy is certainly an important component of the regeneration project and it's an ambition that seems to have some support.

Niamh and Liv are both in their twenties and only started coming to Bootle in the last two months since they started working in the area. The prospect of being able to enjoy new places like Salt and Tar after work is an attractive proposition. Liv said: "The new changes are exciting and new venues and restaurants would definitely interest me."

Niamh agrees: "It would be good to have more things to do around here with a few more bars and it would make a nice atmosphere in the area."

However, the promise of bright lights and a shiny new future does provoke a degree of scepticism in some quarters.

Elizabeth Price has been coming to The Strand for fifty years and says it was once the best place to shop in the region. She said: "The Strand is very a important place for people around here and parts of it will be greatly missed.

'Last Day' sign on shop in Bootle Strand
'Last Day' sign on shop in Bootle Strand -Credit:Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.

"I do like the fact they plan to build some new homes as that's very important because more and more people need that.

"I also hear Tom Jones is coming here in the summer so that's exciting. I doubt I'll need to go down in person, but I might be able to hear him at home - he is quite loud Tom isn't he!"

Elizabeth also raises an important point about the plans for more restaurants and shops and is concerned about the cost of living crisis and whether people will be able to afford to access the full benefits of the regeneration plan. She is not the only one to raise this issue.

Peter is a taxi driver who has been servicing The Strand for 'years and years' and has witnessed an undoubted decline. He said: "The biggest change is when Marks & Spencer's left, that's when the rot set in. A lot of people used to come here to go to Marks so, that was a big loss.

"Then the Triad Building closed which was important to people working there and people right across the borough.

"I've not seen the plans but i know they're concentrating on the canal-side and starting up more leisure businesses. It's a big change to convert the centre from retail to leisure but we'll have to wait and see. It's a very poor area so it's important that these new things are available to everyone."

Sefton Council says it is 100% committed to making the regeneration scheme accessible to everyone and has worked extensively with local residents and businesses as well as the local college to ensure everyone is able to benefit from the investment coming into Bootle.

The crowd applauding Red Rum Club, performing at opening of Salt and Tar.
The crowd applauding Red Rum Club, performing at opening of Salt and Tar. -Credit:Andrew Teebay Liverpool Echo

Stuart Barnes is the Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Housing for the council: "Our regeneration project for Bootle is hugely ambitious and it is rooted in the needs of local people. We want to lead the way in how a modern town centre should look like.

"We want to stimulate the local economy, but we are also looking to work with institutions like Hugh Baird College to bring education programmes and we're also examining the possibility of bringing a new health hub to the area. There's a lot to come and the opening of Salt and Tar is just the start."

According to a Sefton Council spokesperson, the local authority is also working with local businesses who have been impacted by the plans - including those traders moved due to the upcoming demolition.

They said: "The first phase of transformation works on the Strand will be carried out in a manner that aims to minimise disruption for residents and businesses, and consultation and communications will continue throughout with all stakeholders.

“The demolition will only affect a small part of the Strand.

“We cannot comment on any specific commercial negotiations with affected businesses or community interest companies, but we have worked pro-actively to retain businesses and partners within the Strand wherever possible, and to support other partners with relocation where this hasn’t been achievable."

All in all, the start of the regeneration project seems to have been warmly received and has got people really excited - expectations were certainly buoyed by the opening of Salt and Tar.

More works and projects are on the horizon and it certainly feels like an exciting new start for Bootle.

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