Rochdale centre's former M&S to reopen as community hub
Date published: 17 May 2021
The former Marks and Spencer in 2018
The former M&S building in Rochdale town centre will reopen as a new community hub on Tuesday (18 May).
Under its new name as the “Better Together Building”, its space is being offered for free use to charities or community groups through an organisation, ASTOP, which works to give vacant buildings a new purpose.
Better Together will be occupied by Mind Rochdale, Caring & Sharing, Reuse Littleborough, Global Educational Trust, Bridging Communities, Go Dharmic, Big Life Group, New Step for African Community (NESTAC), Showing Care, and De Butterfly community groups, with other charities set to join the project in the coming months.
Some of its occupants offer mental health, advocacy and counselling services, whilst others seek to support the BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) community, refugees and asylum seekers.
The Global Educational Trust gives donated books another chance of life by providing these for free; the books that are offered may otherwise have been pulped or put into landfill.
Reuse Littleborough – which has its main hub and ‘Second Time Around’ children’s shop in Littleborough town centre – will be using some of the ex-M&S Better Together space to sell larger items like furniture, freeing up valuable space in its other shops.
Jav Rehman of Bridging Communities said: “Bridging Communities is proud to be part of the community hub initiative facilitated by ASTOP, bringing several organisations together under one roof in a central location, forging a strong relationship of key VCSE (Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise) organisations.
“Making use of empty prominently located commercial properties will endeavour to strengthen VCSE sector within Rochdale. Ultimately this collaboration will strengthen the offer available to residents in a central location with good transport infrastructure.”
Yusuf Bashforth, of the Global Educational Trust, said: “At a time when many people are struggling it is so important that charitable organisations, volunteers and members of our community come together and act as one to help alleviate inequalities and offer hope and support to every person across our society.
“It is with great pleasure we embark on this joint enterprise and look forward to meeting the people of Rochdale and surrounding areas.”
Nicky Iginla, of Caring & Sharing, added: “Caring and Sharing is happy to be part of the Rainbow Rising project, working alongside other charities is a new positive initiative happening in Rochdale and we are very happy to be part of this collaboration.
''Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success.”
ASTOP works throughout the UK to bring vacant spaces back into use, picking up the cost of business rates and giving space to charities and community organisations for free.
After previously working with M&S in Lincolnshire, ASTOP became aware of the Yorkshire Street site, and through support from Savills and M&S, got in touch with the council to help bring the empty building back into use by partnering two charities together - Global Educational Trust and the Temporary Use Aid's Rainbow Rising project, to inspire the Better Together Building.
The store – which has 18,000 sq feet of trading space, has been empty since 2020 – when M&S relocated to the new Riverside Walk store. In 2016, Rochdale Borough Council purchased the site for £4.5million – intended to facilitate the M&S relocation to Riverside.
ASTOP is able to operate the way it does due to the tax break benefits a landlord gets for letting its space be used by registered charities or groups for public benefit.
The only downside to its modus vivendi is occupiers can be given as little as four weeks' notice by the building's owner before having to leave.
Its director, Shaylesh Patel, said: “We will happily work with any charitable organisation, and look forward to get everyone working together under one roof.
“We wanted to bring something positive to the town; here's a solution to an empty building and a good idea for putting it back into use.”
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