“Marple is one of the best places in the world, and Marple Civic Society is proud to be the civic society for the area. However, our mission is to make Marple an even better place to live.” Gillian Postill, Chair Marple Civic Society
Since The Glass-House was invited to support the community in Marple in 2012 to develop ideas for the heritage buildings on Marple Wharf, the community has gone from strength to strength. Most recently they have launched an exploration paving the way to deliver a neighbourhood plan.
Marple, a small town in Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, has a rich history and heritage. The town grew significantly through the introduction of mills and limekilns during the industrial revolution, and through a three-way canal junction supporting the town’s textile trade.
The community was and is keen to build on this heritage, and Marple Civic Society’s first aim and achievement was to revive the canals running through Marple. Since then, they have worked tirelessly to improve and enhance the townscape in a range of ways, including engaging actively in both local planning applications and the development of a Local Development Framework for Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council (SMBC). They have successfully campaigned to have a new supermarket built in the town centre instead of on the edge of town, conducted a street clutter audit and removal, and gained the support of the wider community and of local and national politicians for their causes.
When we met this community in 2012, they were focused on securing the important heritage assets of Marple Wharf for community use, including the Toll House and warehouse.
We were delighted to be invited to work with Marple Civic Society and the Marple Vision Partnership, and our support to them involved a study visit and a number of tailored community workshops. The study tour took us to the Hollingwood Hub in Chesterfield, where representatives from the Chesterfield Canal Partnership shared their experience of turning the derelict canal and lock house into a well-used recreational resource and thriving community hub.
Bringing together a broad range of stakeholders of all ages, our workshops used mapping as a tool to enable the community to articulate Marple Wharf’s unique features and place within the region. Building on learning from the other activities, participants in the final workshop began to explore the potential design of the buildings and how to work collaboratively with an architect, and consolidated and prioritised emerging ideas.
“Your workshops gave us confidence to keep going. They gave us the reality that there could be [a community space on the wharf]… The mapping workshop has helped us further, we have quoted it and our findings so many times.” Gillian Postill, Chair of Marple Civic Society
The historic wharf buildings remain undeveloped as yet, thanks to the determined efforts of the Civic Society and wider community to ensure a significant civic use. However, pressure for housing development is great in Marple, as in much of the country, and homes have been proposed and several since developed on and around the historic wharf.
It was through sheer luck that a local businessman’s retirement windfall helped the Civic Society to propose a viable alternative to imminent planning permission for housing proposals in the Toll House. Working closely with the wharf owner the Canal & River Trust, SBMC and local community stakeholders, the Wharf now looks set to be developed as a resource for the community: With a ground-floor café and garden, the Toll House will become a multi-functional destination for locals and tourists alike to have a cup of coffee and learn through a permanent exhibition about the history and impact of the canals and the industrial revolution. The building will also provide another space for various community uses, and a multi-functional space for sports and other activities upstairs.
The project will be developed with the Canal & River Trust’s development arm H2O Urban and hopes are that the community will take on full maintenance and management of the wharf buildings through a new Community Interest Company (CIC). Says Chair of Marple Civic Society, Gillian Postill: “The work we did together with The Glass-House has borne fruit.”
The work of the group continues. With no local plan in place for the future of the town, the Society is undertaking a series of activities to affect how Marple evolves. They have commissioned an independent urban design study, and just launched a week-long neighbourhood plan exhibition and series of engagement activities to build support. This week, the neighbourhood plan steering group handed out 5,000 leaflets, delivered a talk to the monthly councillor meeting at Area Committee, hosted a stakeholder meeting and a public debate, and spent their Saturday inviting locals in to see the exhibition and get involved. With any luck, locals will sign up to say they support a neighbourhood plan and join the efforts to make Marple an even better place to live, work and play.
It is truly inspirational to see what a determined group of local people can build, overcome and achieve. Marple Civic Society and the community of Marple are great champions of the positive changes local people can bring to their environment and community, and we look forward to seeing the further fruits of their efforts for Marple.
Special thanks must go to Gillian Postill, Chair of Marple Civic Society, for taking the time to speak to me and update us on the work of the Civic Society. Awarded the Marsh Civic Award in 2015 for her “outstanding contribution to the civic movement”, we’re delighted to have had the chance to learn with and from Gillian and her colleagues of the Marple Civic Society.