Len Grant sees a massive change in Higher Openshaw as major development plans finally get underway.
It feels like Openshaw has turned a corner. There’s no doubt this east Manchester neighbourhood is very much in transition and there is still lots to do but, walking the streets recently, there’s now a new momentum.
The most obvious change is on the high street: demolition contractors and construction contractors are practically falling over each other! No sooner has something been knocked down than there’s a new structure in its place.
The derelict shops on Ashton Old Road have now gone, a swathe of rough ground in their place. Signs above the purple hoardings announce a new town centre is on its way and beyond, the yellow steel framework of Morrisons supermarket has shot from the ground.
Further down the road and opposite the New Roundhouse and the state-of-the-art health centre more shop fronts are coming down as part of the Toxteth Street development. There’s now more comings and goings around the new houses and apartments than around the boarded-up terraced streets which, I’ve read, have recently provided the backdrop to an East is East sequel.
I first photographed Openshaw’s high street six years ago when most of the shops and restaurants were either struggling to stay afloat or had already gone out of business.
There was a hair and beauty shop offering unlimited tanning sessions, ‘Only £10 for 2 weeks’; there were taxi firms asking for owners drivers; and – with their rusting shutters closed for the final time – there was the Tuck In Cafe, A + B Dry Cleaners, a Chinese take-away, the Al-Hambra Restaurant, amongst others.
But it wasn’t always like this. I know from listening to older residents that the high street was the main shopping street for hundreds of local residents and that on Saturdays you’d barely walk between the butcher’s and the greengrocer’s before you met another neighbour and stopped for another chat.
Shopping, of course, is different now. You’re more likely to meet your neighbour or old friend in the car park of one of the major supermarkets. And so Openshaw is changing, offering something new for existing residents and becoming an attractive proposition to newcomers looking to move in. I look forward to photographing its revival in the months ahead.