Based on Birkenhead waterfront Woodside Ferry Village is back up and running after the pandemic and is a focal point for a new era of growth for independent businesses across Wirral. Tony McDonough reports
Woodside Ferry Village on Birkenhead waterfront is the focal point for a new drive to support the growth of independent businesses across Wirral.
Launched in summer 2019 by Woodside Area CIC, Woodside Ferry Village was seen as a catalyst for wider regeneration of Birkenhead. It is based around the increasingly popular food and drink market concept that has proved a hit in Liverpool.
However, like the rest of the hospitality sector, the venue had to batten down the hatches for most of the last 18 months amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It reopened, hopefully for good, in April and now its eight independent operators are looking to build momentum as the UK emerges from the final restrictions.
Brands include Caffe Cream, Haku Sushi, Pausha Wine Bar, Low Slow and Dough, Scooby’s, Little Napoli and Bamboo Thai – and the The Tipsy Duck Bar on the upper level which is operated by the CIC. Outside there are a number of benches, originally used on the Mersey Ferries, where people can sit and enjoy spectacular views of Liverpool Waterfront.
And Sharon Stanton, managing director of Woodside Area CIC, told LBN it was now partnering up with Wirral Chamber of Commerce to support the chamber’s Independent Wirral initiative which aims to promote independent businesses across the borough.
Already, 130 businesses have signed up. It has a website with news and updates and it has launched a Wirral Shop Local card. For a £10 annual fee cardholders will have access to regularly updated exclusive offers and discounts from venues all over Wirral.
Both the CIC and the chamber hope Independent Wirral will provide a platform for the recovery of the local economy which has taken a battering from the pandemic. Sharon said: “The last 18 months has been an awful time for us and the businesses here. We had to put on hold all of the plans for events we had here which included weddings and events linked to the ferry river cruises.
“Because we had only just launched in 2019 and were just finding our feet, the lockdown came at the worst possible time. We opened up last summer for Eat Out to Help Out and closed again in October. We opened for a short time in December and then had to close again.
“We are pleased to be open again. It’s a relief and we are cautiously optimistic for the next few months. It was really busy during the Euros football tournament but we have quiet times as well. In normal times there are around 4,000 people working around here, 2,000 in Government buildings. Many of them are still working from home.”
In May, the CIC launched a new independent market and artisan retail hub in front of the ferry terminal. It offers flexible retail space for Wirral’s independent entrepreneurs and makers to showcase and sell their products and services. It was backed by Wirral Council’s £25m Town Deal fund.
It has been set up on land once part of the original dry dock area and comprises 20 purpose-built retail chalets, designed by Quirky Builders, a local construction company. All materials have been built using locally sourced, reclaimed timber.
The market has been open a number of times in the past few weeks and will now open every weekend until the end of summer. It will then open up for festive markets in the few weeks up to Christmas.
Sharon added: “I can’t wait for the Christmas period. We are going to light it all up and it will look amazing – like a winter wonderland. Our eventual aim is to have the market open every weekend but we are not quite there yet.
“The pandemic was a tough time for Woodside Ferry Village but we were able to use that time for better planning. We now have a few young people working here under the Government’s Kickstarter scheme, via Wirral Chamber, and we are offering them high quality training in hospitality.
“We recently used the chalets in the market for a jobs fair and we want to look at different ways in which we can utilise them for a variety of purposes.”
Paula Basnett, chief executive of Wirral Chamber, said: “During lockdown we started to think ‘how can we properly support independent businesses?’ and that is how Independent Wirral came about.
“We now have 130 partners signed up and we hope to eventually push that figure up to more than 400. That market has been an initial focal point and now we have partners all across Wirral. We have also developed an app and each partner can develop their own presence and offers and they can also start selling goods online.”
The chamber has now reintroduced face-to face networking meetings for its members and Paul said there is now a lot of confidence for the future among local businesses. We had real fears about what the impact would be but businesses have survived and they tell us they are now feeling very optimistic.
“There is so much happening now in Birkenhead and with the support of the Town Deal Fund and the Levelling Up Fund there are a lot of options and we are seeing a lot of interest from investors.”