The West Cheshire Credit Union, which provides residents with affordable savings and loan products, has officially opened its doors on Whitby Road.
In another boost to the town’s high street, this is the first shop to be opened by the credit union which has previously been based within Ellesmere Port market and Trinity Church.
It will now benefit from being located on the high street, close to the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Relocating to 13 Whitby Road as part of the borough council’s empty shop refurbishment scheme, the organisation will benefit from a two-year peppercorn rent from landlord Access 2 Training & Employment, which bought the property and refurbished the shop.
Six affordable flats have also been created above the premises which will be allocated through the council’s housing waiting list in the next few months.
The credit union is the latest in a long list of successful new ventures being attracted to Whitby Road, whose vitality has been targeted by the borough council and the Ellesmere Port Development Board.
The town’s historic high street has seen its vacancy rates drop from twice the national average of 24% two years ago to seven per cent this year, half the current national average.
Neil Jay, manager of the credit union, said: “This is a major development for us and will contribute toward further rapid growth of our business, ensuring we are more visible to Ellesmere Port residents.
“In collaboration with partners such as local housing associations and the council, the promotion of our new shop will be targeted at those who would value access to safe savings and affordable loans.
“Our loan rates are hard to beat compared to the plethora of pawnbrokers, money shops and payday lenders that have taken a stronghold on the high street and we need to educate residents that there are viable alternatives.
“I would like to thank Jochem Hollestelle, town centre improvement manager, for his help in making this happen and Gary Williams and his team from Access 2 Training & Employment for the high quality of work undertaken and speed of turnaround in the renovation work, all of which has provided us with a first class outlet in which to provide our services.”
The credit union now benefits from a highly visible shop frontage on the busy road with a self-contained shop and office in which it can offer a real alternative for residents to high-interest money lenders and loan sharks, described as a ‘key issue’ for the borough council.
Deputy leader and executive member for resources, Cllr Eveleigh Moore-Dutton (Con), said: “The opening marks a number of milestones for me in the plans to get Ellesmere Port’s town centre revitalised and also to add pressure on loan sharks and the extortionate money lenders who have exploited local people.
“I fully support the credit union and its work and I have shown this support personally by joining.
“West Cheshire Credit Union is a practical solution for people who want their savings to help others who need to borrow money at more affordable rates.
“I am delighted that we have been able to help the union secure a prominent position on Ellesmere Port’s high street whilst bringing unused properties back into use for the benefit of the community.”
Looking to target long-term vacant shops on the old high street, the grant scheme aims to bring properties back into use, improve the appearance of the street, help increase footfall for the other shops and support the regeneration of the wider area.
Landlords are asked to rent out their unused retail unit to local community interest groups for a two-year period, receiving a peppercorn rent and benefiting from a grant to bring the property back up to modern standards in return.
Gary Williams, project manager of Access 2 Training & Employment, and landlord of 13 Whitby Road, said: “We are delighted to hand over the keys to the credit union.
“We have worked extremely hard to get the empty property ready in time for them to move in and we are proud that we have been able to give local young people valuable work experience during the extensive refurbishment.
“As a community interest company we are also proud to be associated with the credit union and fully support the work that it does.
“By offering a peppercorn rent, we hope that this will contribute to it becoming a successful business on the high street for many years to come.”
Ellesmere Town ward borough councillor Justin Madders (Lab) believes the use of finance available to the town centre through the Marks and Spencer destination store development “has really helped to revitalise Whitby Road and the credit union will prove to be an excellent addition to the town centre”.
He added:“It is important that we provide an ethical and prominent alternative in the high street to the pay day lenders and rip off credit merchants that suck the life out of people.
“I hope that we continue to see exciting new developments in the high street.”
The need to improve the appearance of Whitby Road’s shops is identified in the development board’s priority for economic, social and physical improvements to the town over the next 10 years.
Residents have also raised the issue of empty shops in the town centre through the council’s neighbourhood action groups.
Landlords can find out more about the empty shop refurbishment scheme by sending an email to the town centre improvement manager, firstname.lastname@example.org.