IN FOCUS | Altered/Space’s recipe for mixed-use development
Cockhedge Shopping Park in Warrington is being transformed.
Roughly 61,600 sq ft of retail space is being demolished, and another 7,000 sq ft is being refurbished and reconfigured in a project that really lives up to the name of the developer – Altered/Space.
Altered/Space has big plans for Warrington, with the downsizing of Cockhedge Shopping Park only one element of it. The developer’s wider Cockhedge masterplan includes up to 900 homes, 215,000 sq ft of offices, and 11,000 sq ft of leisure, retail, food, or healthcare accommodation.
It’s a big project, but the natural progression for Altered/Space, which has been making a name for itself around breathing new life into town centre sites.
Altered/Space’s work at Stanley Square in Sale gives a hint of what Warrington residents can expect at Cockhedge.
In Sale, the developer has been working with SimpsonHaugh Architects to redevelop the 60,000 sq ft The Square shopping centre since 2021, changing up unit sizes, bringing in more food and beverage, and improving the public realm. In May, a series of first-floor flex office space known as The ClassRooms opened. Next month, the 5,500 sq ft Kids Planet Nursery will follow suit.
Along the way, The Square has been renamed Stanley Square, a nod to the old name of the road that led to the shopping centre – Stanley Grove. It was a name that instantly entrenched the shopping centre in the community, giving it roots.
The word “community” pops up again and again when talking with Altered/Space directors Mark Rebbeck and Michael Brown. They discuss the importance of listening to the community, the need to get the community on board, the success that comes from having community businesses subscribe to your mission. Community, community, community.
“We’re passionate about urban regeneration and I think we’re finding our own niche in projects,” Brown said. “They’re not big shiny projects in city centres. There’s a story behind them. It’s getting under the skin of that story – the community aspect.
“We want Stanley Square to be the heart of the community,” he continued. “In the same way in Warrington, it’ll be something different… but it’s still a community you’re trying to form.”
It helps that Altered/Space is more than just a developer who builds and moves on. The company is in the asset management business too and is committed to its projects for the long haul. That means a commitment to tinkering with them as well.
“You can’t fill the shops and the units and walk away,” Rebbeck said. “You let these things evolve. You need to work at it and continue to look at what new elements need to be produced or how you work better on things.”
A push for independents
Walking around Stanley Square with Brown and Rebbeck, it is clear that they are already part of the fabric of the shopping centre. Shopkeepers greet them and give feedback. They make a point to support the local vendors – and they seem, at least, to know everyone by name. In fact, it is nearly impossible to walk more than a few feet before they’re stopped by someone else for a chat.
The neighbourly feel that surrounds the shopping centre is partly due to the push for local, independent businesses. To drive this independent culture, Altered/Space removed the barriers to entry. It created smaller units, which naturally have a lower cost point and are thus more accessible. They even put in some of the fit-outs, so that moving in was as simple as possible.
The result is a bustling street of shops, cafes, and restaurants – even on a weekday afternoon. Overlooking it all are first-floor flex offices, known as The ClassRooms – making Stanley Square a place to work and play.
Looking beyond retail
In addition to pushing for independents to set up shop, Altered/Space has made a point to court non-retail tenants.
Part of Altered/Space’s design for mixed-use schemes is providing for community needs. This is the basic stuff: grocery stores, healthcare centres. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, but the days of the department store anchor are long gone. Now, the anchors fulfil the needs of the community, not its desires.
In Brown’s words, it is helping “elderly people see their trip to the doctor as an opportunity to have a cup of coffee and speak to someone they may not talk to during the week” – that’s when you know your destination has become a true part of the community.
Cockhedge will have an edge over Stanley Square – while Stanley Square will stay rooted in shops, healthcare facilities, restaurants, and cafes, Cockhedge has the opportunity to embrace competitive leisure. This is because of its city centre location and the fact that there will be the residents of 900 flats looking for something to do when they’re not working. In Sale, those looking for that kind of offer have the nearby Trafford Centre to go to.
Beyond the stores themselves, Altered/Space has put a focus on public open space. At Stanley Square, the cafes spill out onto the street, and a courtyard provides space for events, picnic tables, and coffee and record store caravan Stutter & Twitch.
There’s a regular calendar of events as well, from a makers market on the third Sunday of the month to a tea dance on the last Friday.
At Cockhedge, the demolition of the stores is in part to improve the visual appeal of the area. Shops are being reconfigured to make it a more welcoming experience.
It’s about creating a destination, in Brown’s words – a “picturesque place where people would come specifically for a day trip”.
An easily accessed location also helps. It is no coincidence that Altered/Space’s two projects are so close to train and tram stations. Stanley Square is by a tram spot with easy access to Manchester city centre, while in Warrington, future residents of Cockhedge could get to Manchester’s Oxford Road station or Liverpool Lime Street in under an hour.
“Connectivity is a key piece of the jigsaw,” Brown said.
‘Reinvigorate and reuse’
Despite the demolition underway in Warrington, Altered/Space has made a point to preserve structures when feasible. Over in Sale, the group has prioritised reusing existing assets – The ClassRooms being a prime example.
The space was formerly a storage space for the retail tenants at the shopping centre and was underused before Altered/Space converted the area into offices.
“Where we can, we like to work with the fabric of what’s there,” Rebbeck said. “Where we can reuse fabric, that’s what we want to do. We want to reinvigorate and reuse.”
He added later: “I’m an architect by training and a surveyor, so it’s always been important to me and it’s just the right thing to do.”
Altered/Space’s recipe for success seems to be working in Sale. Stanley Square’s foot traffic increased by 10% between 2021 and 2022 and is set to increase by another 10% this year. That is looking to grow considerably again as The ClassRooms offices fill up.
Demand for space at Stanley Square has also been strong, with Sixteen and LTL acting as joint agents for the site. Since Altered/Space began the £70m redevelopment of Stanley Square, 26 new tenants have joined. There is only one vacant unit remaining, but it is currently being used by a variety of pop-ups.
Altered/Space is hoping for similar success at Cockhedge, where LTL and Graham Sibbald are joint agents.