Independent businesses have become the darling of Manchester, eager to differentiate the city from the homogenous high streets across the UK. Adam Brady, from Henry Boot Developments, gives his take on how to create vibrancy in the city’s new neighbourhoods.
“There’s a growing pride in independent businesses – it’s a part underdog story, part backlash against cities slowly becoming an identikit of the next,” says Adam, sitting in Henry Boots’ stylish office on Manchester’s Cross Street. He’s surrounded by framed black and white photos of the development company’s founders. All moustached, suited and solemn.
“It’s funny, back in their day,” he says nodding to the walls, “supporting local business was just daily routine. The norm. Now independence is seen as, let’s face it, being inherently cooler than the monolith chain stores and their predictability.”
Coffee in hand (he’s just become a dad again), he discusses why developers have a responsibility for setting the tone and vibe of a community from the off. One of the brains behind KAMPUS – the new neighbourhood in the heart of Manchester – he’s fiercely protective over the vision. With building work well-underway, his attention turns to building a community of businesses that will take the £250 million scheme from yet another city centre regeneration project to something memorable.
“With any project you feel a slight burden of responsibility. F**k it up and that legacy lives on for decades. And boy do people have an opinion. But KAMPUS is on another scale. It’s so central, so high profile, so unique in opportunity, we all feel the pressure to deliver something knock-out.
“We want a collective of indie businesses to see what KAMPUS will be and to come call it home. Why? I think it comes down to having pride in diversity. People want to see that Manchester has something that Leeds or Sheffield doesn’t, and vice versa. In turn, visiting those establishments becomes special. Your neighbourhood coffee shop becomes a comfort blanket that people in other cities won’t experience. On the other hand, going to that restaurant or quirky shop when visiting a city suddenly becomes an event.”
As well as becoming home to new residents, KAMPUS is set to become a destination neighbourhood in its own right, with a central garden flanked by shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. The dream is to fill these with as many one-offs and growing brands as possible.
“You’ve seen this year a collapse in support for chain restaurants. But it’s not because people aren’t eating out. People – in particular the younger generation – are just becoming more quality conscious about where they shop, who they support and the social implications of business. With a finite amount of money in their pocket, they’re thinking carefully about where to spend it and the experience they want in return.
“The wave of start-ups have an edge. They can put their heart and soul into creating an atmosphere and service. They can tailor what they offer so they make everyone that walks through the door feel special, rather than a number. It’s attention to detail,” says Adam.
So no chain stores? “That’s the plan.” Adam laughs. “Call it wishful thinking, but sometimes you have to have some resolve and hold out to get a better end result. That can mean learning to say no, something people in our industry often don’t have the balls to do when you’ve got space to fill.”
He remains tight lipped on the brands currently being given preview tours during construction. “The people we’ve spoken to get what we’re piecing together.They get that KAMPUS will help shape the personality of their businesses as much as the offer will. It’ll be…. special.”