Sue and Phil are busy in the bright, sunny kitchen of 422’s café. I’m told it’s Phil’s first day and already this morning they’ve prepared homemade celery soup. “I like cooking,” he says with a big smile, “and helping out.”
422 is a new community hub on Stockport Road, in an historic building previously home to Longsight Youth Centre. Over the last eighteen months it’s been renovated by Manchester Vinyard to provide a whole range of opportunities for local residents.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing this building full of people, all involved in different activities,” manager Naomi Woodcock tells me. “This area of the city has multiple needs in terms of food poverty, health inequality and employment skills and we’re ready to help people tackle those issues.”
The café is a good example. Run by Pure Innovations, it provides training opportunities for people with disabilities who might not ordinarily get any work experience. “And that also means we can offer affordable, healthy food and hot drinks to everyone,” says Naomi.
Soon a community fridge ‘recycling’ fresh food and a pantry scheme offering discounted groceries will support local families struggling with ever-increasing shopping bills.
Although the café is up and running, the whole building gets a grand opening on Saturday, 13th November, between 10am-4pm. “We’ll have workshops in the main hall – choir, drumming, drama – as well as face painting, a craft corner and a film screening,” says Naomi. “There’ll be something for the whole family and it’s all free.”
When I reported on 422 last year, progress had been stalled because of the pandemic. Since then the transformation, coordinated by volunteer project manager Stuart Hogg, has been significant.
“What,” I ask Stuart as he takes me on a tour of the building, “has been the biggest challenge?”
“Persuading people it was possible,” he says, without hesitation. “A lot of people said we couldn’t do it. Many others were thinking it, but not saying it.”
And yet here it is. With the support of funders, donors and numerous businesses who’ve supplied materials at ‘mates’ rates’, Stuart and his colleagues are about to provide the local area with a new, much-needed community venue.
On the ground floor, as well as the large café, a number of meeting rooms are already in use by the Olympias Music Foundation. “They’ve recruited 46 local children to learn violin, cello or clarinet,” explains Stuart. “And we provide three rooms, for three hours, three days a week. Music, like sport, can be transformational, can’t it?”
During the renovation much of the building has been brought back to its original condition. Suspended ceilings have been removed and original features are highlighted. 150 years of paintwork has been shot-blasted off the wrought iron staircase.
Upstairs we push open double doors into the impressive main hall, a huge double-height space with a mezzanine that will become music practice rooms.
The proposed activities for this multi-purpose hall have inspired Sport England to get behind the project. “90% of the population don’t use a regular sporting facility because they’ve had bad experiences of sport at school or don’t feel comfortable in a gym,” explains Stuart.
“So Sport England is keen to experiment with a new approach. What about a venue where you come in for a cuppa and, while you’re here, discover a tea dance going on, or ‘Bolly fit’ – a gentle fitness routine to Bollywood music – or sponge ball walking football. It’s a small step to get involved and have fun.”
The hall will also be a venue for music concerts – a BBC Philharmonic ensemble will play next month – and for health events like the upcoming, family-friendly Fun Flu Jab event.
Back downstairs Stuart shows me the basement where pavement lights let daylight into a series of smaller spaces being converted into classrooms and offices.
“This is how we make the place sustainable,” he says.
“These will be hired to small charities; there might have adult education in the evenings and here,” I poke my head into yet another space, “will be a digital skills room for music recording and podcasting. Young people can use our kit to build their skills ready for a job in the industry.”
Derelict for over ten years, 422 Stockport Road is poised once again to support local people. I have no doubt they will touch the lives of many. Take a look, get involved, have a cuppa.
422 is at 422 Stockport Road, Longsight, Manchester, M12 4EX
The café is open Monday-Friday 9am-3pm.