Salford homeless project Coffee4Craig has been handed a 25-year lease to take over the former Woolpack pub in Pendleton, Salford.
The plan is to turn the derelict 1970s boozer into a community hub for Pendleton, growing free fruit and vegetables for locals to eat.
It was just a dream for Coffee4Craig organisers Hendrix and Risha Lancaster until the new Salford City Council Lead Member for Housing, Councillor Paul Longshaw, signed off on a provisional long lease which will allow them to rally investors around the project.
“I started talking to Coffee4Craig at Christmas last year,” said Councillor Longshaw.
“There have been a number of projects over the years who’ve expressed interest but Coffee4Craig were the only organisation able to come up with a concrete plan for fundraising to achieve the capital they need,” he said.
Salford City Council bought the Woolpack and the land around it on Belvedere Road in 2010 as part of the £650 million PFI regeneration of Pendleton.
Originally a group of local volunteers calling themselves ‘The Woolpackers’ wanted to re-open the pub as it was – a busy and popular drinking venue for local people.
Plans were set out by students from Salford University’s Centre for the Built Environment but the idea withered on the vine in the face of a lack of funding.
Carole Moore, who headed up the group, told SalfordOnline.com she was delighted to hear the Woolpack was to be brought back into use.
She said: “This is wonderful news.
“I think it will be nice to see the building back in use. It’s so upsetting to pass everyday and see it standing empty.
“I’m sad because I feel for the people who have lost their much-loved community pub and this news brought a tear to my eye, as we have since lost some of our dear friends.
“But we have to move on and I wish Coffee4Craig every success.”
The Woolpack was a tremendously popular community pub until it shut in 2008.
It was opened by Wilsons Brewery on 22 December 1970 and was run by John Shortman who had the Wheatsheaf on Broad Street*.
The building itself had been pre-fabricated miles away in St Helens then erected on site on Meyrick Street off Belvedere Road.
While a little rough and ready it was consistently busy with older patrons and Pendleton locals and so its closure came as an unwanted shock.
The working title for the new venture is ‘The Meanwhile’.
Plans are at an early stage but within the new Woolpack Coffee4Craig hope to be able to provide a community office space where local groups can drop in and out, along with affordable function rooms for hire.
“People just can’t afford the prices some ask for everything from short-term room hire to wedding receptions,” said Hendrix Lancaster.
“We’re not 100 per cent on whether we’ll look to keep the current building or to demolish and rebuild.”
“Even a rebuild will take over a year.”
As well as allowing Coffee4Craig to move their ‘offices’ out of the front room of their home, they hope the new Woolpack will be a place to learn how to survive while in poverty or after homelessness, and to be an open and welcoming community hub used by people living in and around Salford.
It’s understood the Salford-based homeless project will need to raise between £300,000 to £350,000 to get the idea off the ground.
“25 years on a lease is a big commitment,” said Hendrix Lancaster.
“But the investors we’ve been talking to wanted that long-term commitment.
“We’ve managed to secure a 25-year lease on the building and the land.”
Reality Party leader Mark ‘Bez’ Berry was offered the lease a year ago with plans to turn the Woolpack into a permaculture-led community centre.
In February 2016 he and his team of guerilla gardeners turned up at The Woolpack to plant 30 apple trees the music star-turned-radical politician had been growing in his back garden.
And it’s this aspect that’s got Coffee4Craig excited.
They want to link up with the great work being done by Incredible Edible Salford to make fruit and vegetables easily accessible.
The car park – which is currently vacant and being used as free parking – could be filled with planters “so that Mary over the road, if she’s skint this week she can just head over and pull up a couple of potatoes to make a meal.”
Not everyone in the local area is on board, though.
“We estimate 10-15% of the trees have been pulled up and destroyed by vandals,” said Hendrix, “but that’s just the way life is.
“People just aren’t used to anyone taking an interest in them and their area, but if they keep disappearing we’ll just keep replacing them until everyone’s just used to them being there.
“It’s about opening that area up and being able to say, ‘It’s yours, enjoy’.”
Asbestos which blighted previous attempts to re-open the Woolpack was cleared 12 months ago, but the timber-framed structure is in a seriously poor state of repair.
“It would be cheaper to rebuild, given the original timber frame and the state of the inside, as well as the part of the flat roof that’s fallen in.”
One of the main priorities for ‘The Meanwhile’ is to set up a ‘Pay As You Feel’ cafe, where people can learn to cook simple, cheap meals along with qualifications in food hygiene, budgeting and customer services.
“The guys we meet every day just seem to be lacking basic skills, like how turn a couple of tins into a meal – basically, how to survive when you’re skint.”
And because it’s a ‘pay what you want’ cafe, there’ll be no embarassment of not having enough change at the till – a common complaint for people on the breadline.
“We want it to be as off-grid as possible so we’re not suddenly facing large energy bills, so if any solar panel businesses want to get in touch, or anyone who owns a building company, we’d really like to speak to them,” said Hendrix.
“It’s going to be a real DIY SOS-style project.”
Coffee4Craig currently run an ad-hoc food bank out of a green shipping container in the Woolpack car park.
This will continue on a self-referral basis, because even with all the food bank support in Salford there are still hurdles to jump when it comes to getting referrals from support services.
Coffee4Craig won’t name names but they do reveal there are three or four businessmen taking an interest; one is reportedly indepedently wealthy while the others own their own businesses in Salford.
“We’d really like to be able to adapt this centre to what the community needs.
“We want to hear from locals, so if you’ve got an idea and you think Pendleton needs it, whether that’s a space for the local nursery to have their Christmas party, or whatever, let us know and we can incorporate it into our plans.”
One concern is that the centre would attract groups of homeless people hanging around outside the former pub.
There won’t be people sleeping over at the Woolpack but the aim is to install three emergency sleeping ‘pods’ [self-contained rooms with a bed, sink and toilet].
Anecdotally when the weather gets cold, everybody heads into Manchester city centre because they know they’re not going to get a bed in Salford.
This would have to be provided with security on site, local residents don’t want large groups of people hanging around.
It’ll also be completely ‘dry’, so Coffee4Craig have no plans to sell beer or any alcohol in the former pub.
“This will be a safe space for everybody. We have a zero-tolerance policies on violence or disrespect,” says Hendrix.
“We’re working with Business4Society, Worsley Rotary Club and Fairshare have also committed support.
“In terms of impact we’re hoping to be able to teach people to stand on their own two feet.”
Councillor Longshaw continues: “When I was talking to Coffee4Craig I left it for them to come up with a plan about how it’s going to look.
“Originally it was going to be the the site of a biomass boiler house for the flats nearby but when funding for the Green Deal dried up that was no longer an option. It was always my intention to use The Woolpack as a community space.”
But why did the council not sell it on the open market and use the money to reinvest in stretched frontline budgets?
“There’s been some considerable frustration with private firms buying up buildings in Pendleton over which the council has no control,” said Cllr Longshaw.
We’re thinking here of the Paddock pub round the corner on Cross Lane – another former boozer sold off to ultra-budget ‘hotel’ chain, the almost-impossible to get hold of Trivelles International.
Says Paul: “The Woolpack was built of its time, shall we say, with a timber frame and a flat roof, and has fallen in in parts and the condition’s pretty ropey.
“I’ve said to Risha and Hendrix if you can save some of it, great, but its more likely they’ll be looking to knock it down.
“We’d love to have a situation where the council could have this ‘meanwhile use’ so different community organisations can come and go and it’s not stuck as one specific thing.
“There are a lot of faith-based organisations helping the homeless in the immediate area – the Emmaus project, Salford Foyer and Abbott Lodge and what we’d be looking for Coffee4Craig to do is complement that work, not to overlap it.”
“We’ve suggested a long lease at a peppercorn rent and we’ll certainly support their fundraising plans but there’ll be no financial contribution from Salford City Council.
“This 25-year lease is provisional on them getting to the end goal.
“It’s in such a prominent position right on Belvedere Road where a lot of people cross and students go by, it wasn’t the most good-looking of properties.
“Personally I would really be so proud if it could be turned ito a community asset for people in need.”
Volunteers from Salford City Council and Worsley Rotary Club are taking part in The Big SleepOut on 23 September to raise awareness and funds for the project.
Sleepers are provided with a carboard box and a large polythene bag and sleep rough for a night just to emulate what thousands of people have to go through every day.
That takes place at Middlewood Scout Camp in Worsley overnight between 7pm Friday 23 September and 9am on Saturday 24 September. More details here.
You can donate to the project online here: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/paullongshaw1 and watch this space for more details.
*With thanks to Pubs of Manchester for this information