Village was built 130 years ago by soap tycoon William Hesketh Lever to house his workers and their families and now welcomes 300,000 visitors a year. Tony McDonough reports
Dating back 130 years Port Sunlight is one of the most picturesque areas of Merseyside and attracts more than 300,000 visitors a year – as well as being home to more than 2,000 people.
Now the charity that oversees the running of the Wirral village, built by soap tycoon William Hesketh Lever to house his workers and their families, has devised a new five-year strategy to grow revenues and visitor numbers and secure its future for generations to come.
Port Sunlight Village Trust (PSVT) has secured a ‘Resilient Heritage’ grant totalling £53,200 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund towards a 12-month project called Brighter Future. Total cost of the project is £76,200 with a contribution from PSVT as well as staff and volunteer time.
The funding supports the launch of their first five-year strategic plan, which articulates a “dynamic new vision” for PSVT and the historic village that it is responsible for. It will strengthen the charity’s income generation potential and facilitate the development of an enhanced and sustainable offer for visitors, village residents and the wider local community.
As a result of the project, two new staff posts will also be created including a volunteer manager and fundraising officer.
Winner of the Small Visitor Attraction of the Year in this year’s Liverpool City Region Tourism Awards, Port Sunlight is a conservation area which includes 900 Grade II-listed buildings within 130 acres of parkland. It is home to 2,065 people and comprises almost 1,100 residential properties.
PSVT’s estate includes 292 residential properties and 16 community and commercial buildings, including the Arts Council-accredited Port Sunlight Museum and the Edwardian Worker’s Cottage Experience.
Other well known buildings in the village include the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight Visitor Centre, the Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight Garden Centre and next to the village is the former Lever factory complex, now operated by multinational consumer giant Unilever which employs 2,300 people.
PSVT generates an annual income of more than £3.5m with almost £2.4m generated by property rental income and the rest coming from sources such as the Unilever covenant, trading income and donations.
Its current annual expenditure is just over £3m and the healthy surplus means the charity is self-sustaining. It is keen to build on this solid foundation and increase the attraction to visitors.
Around 43% of the 300,000 annual visitors come from within the Liverpool city region with 19% coming from the wider North West and 8.5% overseas. There is also a growing number of cruise ship passengers coming from Liverpool Cruise Terminal.
PSVT has identified weaknesses in the visitor offer, including an “under-developed heritage interpretation” and a small collection, limiting PSVT’s ability to tell the village’s story, limited retail and catering outlets and poor car parking provision.
The launch of the strategic plan aims to provide stakeholders with a clear understanding of PSVT’s new direction, which sets the course for a successful, sustainable future for the village, building on the organisation’s successes of previous years.
The National Lottery grant represents the first step towards realising the organisation’s new vision for Port Sunlight, ‘to be an inspiring place to live, work and visit’. The objectives are:
- To make the best possible use of PSVT’s heritage assets.
- To maximise income potential through fundraising and commercial activity.
- To build the capacity of the PSVT workforce and increase skills.
Paul Harris, chief executive of PSVT, said: “We know that our plans are ambitious. However, this is not a solo undertaking. It is a responsibility and privilege that we share with other Port Sunlight stakeholders.
“Together we must capitalise on our shared heritage, seize new opportunities, and display some of William Lever’s entrepreneurial drive, flair and imagination to create a homely, inclusive, welcoming village and an internationally renowned, financially successful heritage site.”
For more information about the plans in full visit www.portsunlightvillage.com