Rags to renaissance: Liverpool’s Fabric District vision
Neglected and overlooked for decades, the Islington area of Liverpool city centre is now on the cusp of an exciting rebirth. There are plans for new homes, shops and offices as part of an ambitious vision which pays homage to the district’s long-standing textile tradition.
Words by Lawrence Saunders
Abakhan on Stafford Street was, for generations of Liverpudlians, the go to place for all things fabric.
This emporium of cotton, silk, fleece and felt, alongside dozens of other fabric and fashion retailers in Islington, is part of the area’s rich textile heritage which stretches back to the early 19th Century.
It’s a heritage which is being tapped into as Islington prepares to be reborn as the ‘Fabric District’.
A trio of key active local stakeholders; Jason Abbott and Richard and Suzanne Jennions – the Islington Stakeholders Group (ISG) – are desperate to see what they feel is a forgotten part of the multi-billion pound Knowledge Quarter (KQ Liverpool), reach its full potential.
The collective hopes the area will become a thriving mixed-use destination, where start-ups can work alongside established family businesses and people of all ages can live and enjoy a proper retail offer with bars, restaurants and public art.
The stakeholders are drawing inspiration from successful regeneration projects such as that of Shoreditch in London and have recently completed a vision document for the district.
“We want to create a new vibrant area of Liverpool in a place which has been largely forgotten.”
“My family has been involved in this area for over 40 years,” explains Jason from the ISG. “My father had a printworks on Gildart Street for 35 years and then more recently, myself, my sister and another partner have rented the buildings for the last 15 years to whoever came along. We’ve seen plans come and go for Islington without a lot of change.”
Last year, frustrated by a lack of progress, Jason and other property owners in Islington decided to do something about improving the area and founded the ISG.
“We want to create a new vibrant area of Liverpool in a place which has been largely forgotten,” says Jason.
“The vision document doesn’t include detailed plans but it’s an overview of what we want the area to become, including our aspirations for housing in the Fabric District.”
The document also includes a proposal to turn Stafford Street into more of a high street with bars, restaurants and shops to serve a part of the city centre which Jason feels is often ignored by many Liverpool residents.
In an attempt to engage more locals on the vision, Liverpool-based social enterprise PLACED hosted an interactive pop-up event this summer outside TJ Hughes on London Road – the edge of the Fabric District.
“Those we spoke to were enthusiastic about improvements to the area and the desire of the stakeholder group to make it a better place to live, work and spend time,” says Jo Harrop, director of PLACED.
“They told us that currently it doesn’t offer much to keep you there, that it doesn’t offer much to attract the younger generation and that isn’t an area they would spend time in during the evening.
“People felt improvements proposed by the stakeholder group could help make it a place to spend time rather than just somewhere they pass through.”
It appears that the new vision is beginning to gain traction with developers also. In September, Yu Property Group (YPG) won planning consent for a 10-storey residential development on Devon Street in the heart of the district.
“Islington has been an unremarkable part of the city for decades now but, as part of the expanded KQ Liverpool, it’s undergoing a fabulous renaissance,” said managing director Ming Yeung at the time.
“We’re not trying to copy what the Baltic has done, historically the area has been about fabric and making things.”
Separate to the ISG, one of Islington’s biggest landowners has brought forward its own plans to bolster the area’s residential stock.
Town Square Development, on behalf of T.J Hughes Ltd, last month submitted plans to Liverpool City Council to demolish its Hughes House building, which was last used as TJ’s furniture store, and replace it with an eight-storey complex of 182 apartments.
The proposals, which include space for three new retail units and a new TJ Hughes Express shop, also suggest that the nearby Audley House – home to the main TJ’s store – could be redeveloped in the future.
Meanwhile Jason from the ISG has some ambitious plans for his own property holdings in the Fabric District which stretch from Kempston Street near the Thelma Madine Academy down to the corner of Gildart Street.
“One of the last tenants we had smashed the place up and left us with a bit of a blank canvas,” explains Jason of his three-storey building on Kempston Street.
“I started to look at what we could do with the building and it’s actually quite unique and interesting in its layout.”
With the help of renowned interior design firm Sheila Bird Group, Jason is now in the process of developing what he describes as a new space for “craft, work and play” to be known as The Tapestry.
It’s been confirmed that co-working space DoES Liverpool will relocate from the Gostins Building on Hanover Street to the new venture, with work already well underway on site.
In other news Gary Millar, co-owner of Parr Street Studios, confirmed to Your Move that he is also in talks over a possible future commercial venture in the Fabric District, demonstrating the area’s already burgeoning attractiveness for local entrepreneurs.
With all this talk of co-working space, bars and revitalising a disregarded area, it’s inevitable some observers will draw comparisons with the Baltic Triangle – another once neglected part of the city centre which has experienced a successful resurgence in recent years – but it’s not a view Jason pays much credence to.
“This isn’t a digital and creative part of the town – I don’t want it to be labelled as another Baltic Triangle,” he says.
“We’re not trying to copy what the Baltic has done, historically the area has been about fabric and making things.
“This is about the people who have been operating in this area for a while now looking to create something which is a lot nicer than what is currently there and make it a better place to work and live.”