Transforming Derby’s St Peters Quarter

PUBLISHED: 09:35 25 November 2014 | UPDATED: 20:05 23 October 2015

The Derby Ram statue on East Street. In the background is the old Co-op building on 1913

The Derby Ram statue on East Street. In the background is the old Co-op building on 1913

Ashley Franklin

Ashley Franklin finds that the decision by businesses to work together is energising and regenerating Derby’s St Peters Quarter

David Wilson, St Peters Quarter Ranger, helping a visitor to the areaDavid Wilson, St Peters Quarter Ranger, helping a visitor to the area

If you are one of the 170,000 people who walk along St Peter’s Street in Derby every week, you should have noticed some improvements in the last few years... The new paving at St Peter’s Cross, a steam-cleaned St Peter’s Church, new benches by the church walls, the café promenade feel of Costa, more flower planters, increased signage and information boards, and ‘rangers’ in uniform aiding and directing shoppers and visitors. There’s a fresh bustle and busy-ness to the street and, if you look up, you will not only see how handsome some buildings are hereabouts but also take in the sight of blue flags flying as if in celebration. Emblazoned on them are the words ‘St Peters Quarter Derby’.

The fresh look to St Peter’s Street is the first prominent sign of the middle of the city emerging from the recession into regeneration. This story begins in 2007 with the opening of Westfield (now Intu). As shoppers thronged to the big, bright new indoor centre, city retailers strung out in the open soon expressed anxiety over ‘footfall’, with the emphasis on ‘fall’. This led in 2008 to the rise of the newly-branded Derby Cathedral Quarter, which became a BID – Business Improvement District – a government initiative of 2004. Under the slogan ‘Individual. Diverse. Inspiring.’ the Cathedral Quarter is thriving.

However, while Derby’s retail landscape was changing, the city’s traditional ‘High Street’ – the bit in the middle – was lying inert, undeveloped and neglected. By 2011, in the midst of an ever-deepening downturn, it was clear that something had to be done. As Westfield was taking off, with Debenhams and Marks & Spencer relocating, and the Cathedral Quarter rebranding, a group of businesses from the middle of the city, spearheaded by Stephen Jeffery of the estate and lettings agent Jeffery Jones, decided to act, as he recalls:

J Rice Nets and Curtains, Eagle MarketJ Rice Nets and Curtains, Eagle Market

‘Here we were in the heart of Derby – the commercial core of the city – yet because we were now between Westfield and the Cathedral Quarter, we were looking a bit lost and in danger of being treated not so much as a destination, more a passageway. A few businesses around me started talking and we resolved to create our own identity, so that we could then promote this distinct area as both an alternative and complementary shopping, leisure and commercial area, enabling us to improve the visitor experience and encourage growth, development and investment.’

Perceiving the success of the Cathedral Quarter and other BID operations across the country, Stephen and his colleagues decided to embrace the BID scheme, and appointed consultants PFBB (partnerships For Better Business) UK LLP – the same company that steered the Cathedral Quarter to success. In preparing a business plan, they chose – as did the Cathedral Quarter – to echo the name of its central place of worship. St Peter’s Church is also, pertinently, the oldest medieval building in Derby – some parts of it are 1,000 years old. There was much debate about whether or not to include the apostrophe but as the Quarter does not belong to St Peter, the name St Peters Quarter (without the apostrophe) was launched.

They also decided that the St Peters Quarter should include, effectively, every part of the city that wasn’t already a part of Westfield or the Cathedral Quarter. Strength in numbers. Strength in diversity, too, as it would allow multifarious businesses – around 500 – to throw both ideas and money into a pot. This leads to the real beauty of BIDs: they are driven by the very businesses operating within the BID area. BIDs succeed, say its originators, because they are ‘focused, entrepreneurial and cost efficient’. Plainly put: BIDs are funded through an agreed levy based on business rate payments; all the businesses determine how their pot of money is spent; and all the money is spent on improving and transforming the area. Simple, smart and very democratic, the idea of a BID proved very appealing and, unsurprisingly, over 70 per cent voted ‘Yes’ to the SPQ Business Plan.

Matthew Sheard, Director of HuntersMatthew Sheard, Director of Hunters

That was back in 2011. Three years on, after setting up working groups and continuing to work with PFBB UK LLP as project managers, the St Peters Quarter is now visibly proving its worth.

Pick up the recent Mini Guide and you’ll see that the St Peters Quarter has now been effectively streamlined as an area made up of, appropriately, four quarters: High Street Experience, Market Experience, Derby Riverlights and Independent Shops / Professional Sector.

The High Street Experience is the shopping hub between Intu and the Cathedral Quarter, made up of over 70 national and well-known local stores. One recent chain name arrival – celebrating its first year at the corner of East Street and Exchange Street – is Lee Longlands. It’s pleasing to see this 115-year-old home department store occupying this Art Deco building which has been such a notable presence since 1938. Lee Longlands previously had a pop-up shop in Westfield and, now ensconced in its new four storey, 65,000 square foot store, it is, according to manager Darren Varney, the biggest of the seven Lee Longlands in the country.

Kev Morley, Co-Director of Rattle & Drum with salesman Mike LeeKev Morley, Co-Director of Rattle & Drum with salesman Mike Lee

‘We’re delighted to be in Derby,’ states Darren. ‘We love the position, size and iconic look of the building, we’ve had a busy and positive first year, and being a part of the St Peters Quarter is like being a part of a community. This is already a better area than when we moved in and I like to think we’ve helped bring some of that vibrancy to this quarter.’ Part of that vibrancy is the occasional sight of a splendidly imposing commissionaire as in department stores of old.

Lee Longlands looks set to benefit further from the coming of a new Nationwide branch opposite (replacing HMV) and, every so often, a few Italian food stalls open in the precinct between them. The High Street quarter also includes popular names like Burtons, Bon Marché, the Body Shop, Disney Store, GAP, Miss Selfridge and, sitting on the corner of St Peter’s Street and Babington Lane like a giant stone ship, is Waterstone’s with an attractive, new, light green, wood and glass frontage.

There are also numerous places to eat and drink in this area. In fact, across the whole of the St Peters Quarter, there are nearly 60 restaurants, cafés and bars. A wide variety, too: Italian bistro La Cucina, Thai restaurant Papaya Thai, Caribbean diner Sista Spice and even a Himalayan Gurkha restaurant. A recent arrival which saw the £1m refurbishment of the city’s old Gaumont Cinema site is Cosmo, formerly Zanzibar nightclub. It’s an eat-all-you-like banqueting restaurant serving more than 180 dishes from a dozen different countries and seating 330 diners. ‘No other restaurant in the city offers such an enormous variety of food,’ says Sarah Newton of Cosmo, who is right behind the St Peters Quarter BID. ‘We are delighted to occupy one of the best loved and most iconic buildings in Derby, in an area that is definitely on the up, developing its own identity and promoting themselves collectively. I feel sure it will prosper.’

Elizabeth Woods, owner, Only JokingElizabeth Woods, owner, Only Joking

Currently on East Street but about to move into the prime spot once occupied by Jacobs Cameras at St Peter’s Cross is jewellers Argento, run by Heidi Boyle. Opened ten years ago pre-Westfield, Heidi recalls a bustling area that is less busy nowadays, though Argento’s embracing of Pandora jewellery has been ‘a saviour’, she says – ‘it’s affordable, luxurious and collectable’ – and she remains optimistic about being a part of the St Peters Quarter: ‘I have a store in Nottingham city centre which became a BID area in 2012 but in Nottingham it’s as if it hasn’t happened. I don’t get to hear anything about it, let alone be invited to any meetings. Here in Derby, though, the BID process is very active. There’s a meeting every month to which every business is invited where we really get down to the nitty-gritty – discussing footfall figures and the like – and you are welcome to speak out about something. For instance, I would like to see empty units utilised as art exhibition spaces and, because you sense you’re being listened to, you feel as if you can make it happen. Outside of the meetings, too, the PFBB UK project manager, Ian Hinds, is a constant presence in the area. It makes you feel connected to the St Peters Quarter.’

Another positive about the St Peters Quarter is that it’s revealing hidden gems. For example, part of the High Street Experience is a very classy and stylish Francesco Group hair salon, though it hasn’t a shop front, being perched on the floor above Savers on Victoria Street. Chris Halls is their ambitious, enthusiastic young manager who gained an apprenticeship at Sally Montague and bought into the Francesco franchise 20 months ago. ‘I had a dream of owning my own salon and I’m now living that dream,’ says Chris. ‘We have a high quality salon here and the best trained staff in the hairdressing world.’

As one of the younger, modern-minded business owners in the St Peters Quarter, Chris is quick to approve the St Peters Quarter’s free Mobile Loyalty App and, when it comes to further improvements, he would like to see digital signage, especially in unused outlets. ‘I would also like to see better lighting at night and to make this area even safer,’ adds Chris; ‘it would be a nightmare trying to contact the City Council about something like this so it’s good to have the BID as it enables us to lobby the authorities and get things done quicker.’

Chris Halls of Francesco Hair Group flanked by Libby Stokes and Lauren SumnerChris Halls of Francesco Hair Group flanked by Libby Stokes and Lauren Sumner

The Market Experience is self explanatory, referring obviously to the Eagle Market, one of the largest indoor markets in the UK with 340 stalls. In some ways, this too is a hidden gem. Your head may well be turned at the size and quality of the fruit and vegetables on five stalls, and there are further bursts of colour through the numerous clothing and textile stalls, brimming with produce. Also chock full of stock are the Fig Health Food shop, Pet Superstore and Candy Craft and there are several specialist stalls, one selling old school consoles and games, another with fascinating film and TV memorabilia.

The future of the Eagle Market is frequently discussed but with one million passengers a month passing through the state of the art bus station, there is always cause for optimism. The bus station is officially part of the Riverlights complex which includes two hotels – the Holiday Inn and Hampton by Hilton – the Genting casino and Jimmy’s World Grill and Bar. It’s worth noting that the Genting club houses a restaurant and there are great skyline views of Derby from the restaurants at the two hotels.

What also needs to be acknowledged is that Derby Theatre is within this slab of the St Peter’s Quarter. Here, the future is very positive with the theatre recently boosted by a £500,000 windfall from Arts Council England.

After Dark LightingAfter Dark Lighting

The Independent Shops / Professional Sector area of the St Peters Quarter is by far the largest and the one that really needed a shot in the arm. Stretching from the top of Osmaston Road to the tip of Macklin Street and including The Spot, Green Lane and Babington Lane, this area has been sorely underdeveloped. Undervalued, too: with the Cathedral Quarter BID raising the profile of Derby as a niche shopping destination, it’s time now to highlight an area that has, you may be surprised, over 100 independent shops, businesses and food and drink places. Stores like Hunters Furniture, Potts Electrical Store and Reliance Electrical are well known but there are also the highly valued specialist womenswear shops Jillian Hart Fashions and Bow Boutique, the shoe shops Shooz4Kidz and John Barclay International, Derby’s biggest supplier of indoor and outdoor lighting After Dark, plus a remarkable 14 hairdressing salons, seven beauty salons and three centres connected with hearing.

Mention of audio takes me to Rattle & Drum whose website describes them as ‘one of the country’s leading musical instrument stores.’ It’s certainly well stocked with guitars, and more percussion than you can shake a drum stick at. Customers come from all over the Midlands and the shop is expanding – a music academy is opening soon in the outlet next door.

Right at the other end of this sector – on Macklin Street – Helen Wathall of funeral directors Wathall & Son has embraced the St Peters Quarter with a passion. ‘I wanted to get involved,’ states Helen, ‘because our area, which has professional, commercial and residential issues, was being overlooked for development and City Council initiatives. Becoming a BID has meant that we and other diverse businesses are no longer alone with our issues. We are communicating with each other, it’s given us a voice and and it’s made us a community. As a result, there have been tremendous improvements, and awareness of our services has been vastly improved. This is a more pleasant and safer place to be.’

Probably the oldest medieval building in Derby, St Peter's ChurchProbably the oldest medieval building in Derby, St Peter's Church

On Babington Lane, Vicki Hendry of beauty salon Face Up is relieved and delighted to see this city quarter coming alive after years of languor: ‘the businesses here have spent a long time chipping away at the coal face, without getting any help. I feel the nettle should have been grasped earlier – it’s a bit late for some shops – but at last we are no longer standing alone. Now we’re a part of the St Peters Quarter, we’ve got recognition and, better still, revitalisation. Now, at regular meetings, we can raise concerns and contribute ideas. It’s so good to have a finger on the pulse and know what is happening. For instance, I have long thought that the car parking charges here on Babington Lane are too expensive so this was something I raised through the BID and the City Council is now looking into it.’

Vicki mentioned the loss of the car park at the top of Green Lane owing to the ring road development, so it’s worth knowing that there are two NCP car parks in the area: a multi-storey with 226 spaces (now rebranded as NCP St Peters Quarter) and a surface car park which has been given a splash of pink paint to mark its association with the Pink Ribbon Foundation Breast Cancer Charity. As NCP’s East Midlands Business Manager Ian McLaren points out, car parking has increased eight per cent since being rebranded with the BID. Initiatives have included the introduction of validation machines into local shops to assist with return custom. As Ian further points out: ‘We are cheaper than Intu’s car park.’

If you are put off by the NCP sitting adjacent to the dilapidated Duckworth Square, Ian assures us that the car park is not only ‘clean, safe and secure’ but also that car crime is less here than in other city car parks. Unquestionably, though, Duckworth Square is an eyesore, so it’s encouraging to hear that Derby City Council has plans for the site and is also considering the purchase of the old Debenhams site. In the meantime, work is well underway at The Spot in preparation for an £850,000 revamp which will see a new open space for events and improved paving. Street entertainment has also been introduced at St Peter’s Cross. Along with the attractive new paving, you may well have noticed a face-lifted St Peter’s Church which, furthermore, is awaiting new floodlights.

There are other significant improvements to the church which prove that the St Peters Quarter is not merely about improvements to the retail experience. Here, they have enhanced the spiritual experience, removing the pews to free up the space so that the church can hold conferences and meetings. The vicar, Rev. Canon Paul Morris, points out that the church is a very active and influential member of the SPQ BID, especially since they opened the St Peter’s Centre earlier this year: ‘The Centre provides community rooms for sessions with adults with learning difficulties, refugee and asylum seekers and those in debt. We also have a City Centre Chaplaincy with 25 chaplains in care homes, schools and businesses and we have a children’s clothes bank and food parcel schemes. We also now have a Business Innovation Centre offering desk space to new or existing businesses and social ventures. This will bring people into the St Peter’s Quarter and have a positive effect on local businesses.

‘We are proud that the name of St Peter’s has been adopted for this BID and it’s good to be at the heart of an area that is being energised and regenerated.’

Latest from the Derbyshire Life and Countryside