Kingston upon Hull, St Stephen's Shopping Centre
The city of Kingston-upon-Hull, in East Yorkshire, has tried many times to revamp itself.
With the loss of its main industry some years ago, namely fishing, it has largely been an uphill struggle. I guess it has been rather like one step forward and ten back.
Hull eventually got the link with the rest of the country which it so needed, but it came far too late. When I was a child in the fifties my Dad would talk about if, and when, Hull would have a bridge across the Humber. By the time The Humber Bridge was built it was a bit of a white elephant. It cost a small fortune to be built, received little funding from the UK government, has had to charge hefty tolls and to this day has massive debts. As Hull lost its status as the third largest port in the UK many years ago this bridge was too little, too late.
These days though it is hard to imagine Hull without the Humber Bridge, link.
Hull would be isolated and, the time that traffic would have to spend getting around the Humber Estuary, would mean that most potential visitors to Hull would simply not bother.
As Hull has tried to pull itself up by its boot straps it has utilised its wealth of history and now has a world class art gallery and many museums, all of which are free to enter. One of Hull's most recent developments has been the St Stephen's Shopping Centre. This is located along Ferensway in Hull and was aimed at redeveloping the city area.
Has it achieved its purpose? Well yes, and no, I think.
Ferensway in Hull is named after Thomas Ferens. Ferens was a Hull politician. He is not our only famous politician though. Hull was the birthplace of slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce and more recently home to ex deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.
Ferens was born in 1847 and died in 1930. During his life he became well known for many reasons. He was instrumental in setting up manufacturing giant Reckitt and Sons. His political career was notable for his efforts to help the woman's suffrage movement. Thomas Ferens also became a local philanthropist. He made many significant charitable donations to Hull including the world famous Ferens Art Gallery, located in Victoria Square, Hull.
There are many reminders of Thomas Ferens around the city and Ferensway used to one of the most prominent roads in the city centre.
When I was a child it not only housed the main bus and train station, in Hull, but the large ABC Cinema, Hammonds of Hull, Thornton Varley, the Locarno ballroom and the Royal Station Hotel. These were fine buildings which were in short supply in the fifties. The second world war had seen Hull suffering more than its fair share of bomb damage and much of its heritage had been lost. Ferensway, however, still had some great buildings and up market stores. The huge ABC cinema doubled as a theatre where bands such as The Beatles and Rolling Stones performed in the sixties.
Fast forward to the early part of the 21st Century and much of Ferensway was run down.
Buildings such as the old Locarno ballroom had been reopened as other venues but ultimately closed down. The old ABC had been closed for years and was becoming derelict. As one of Hull's finest citizens Thomas Ferens deserved better than that.
The St Stephen's Shopping Centre was to bring new life to this run down area of the city.
The plans were imaginative and were to incorporate a state of the art cinema, a new home for the Hull Truck Theatre, cafes, restaurants, a large modern shopping arcade or mall, a hotel, a huge supermarket, various shops, a new Interchange to replace the aging and draughty bus and train station and so much more.
The whole complex was to cover a huge area between Ferensway and Park Street in Hull.
The planning and building took quite some time but St Stephen's Shopping Centre opened to the public on 20th September 2007.
I visited it within a short time and had mixed feelings. Aesthetically the whole structure is quite pleasing. It is light and airy with glass everywhere. The main strip has been designed as if it were almost a High Street. Perhaps it is meant to be a nod back to the great Victorian English Shopping Arcades.
However, I had envisaged shops to the top and the bottom. In reality there were less shops than I had anticipated. These shops are all located on the ground floor although some have utilised more than one floor inside. This shopping centre has attracted new stores to Hull as well as old favourites. There is a Zara, an H and M, Jane Norman, La Senza, a huge Next and more.
Before St Stephens' was completed this is the promotional spiel that was written online:-
‘Led by one of the world's leading developers ING Real Estate, St Stephen's is the second largest mixed-use city centre regeneration project in the UK, covering a 40 acre site in the heart of Hull. It features a spectacular shopping and leisure complex and a new £18 million state-of-the-art public transport interchange which coordinates bus, coach, and rail travel to deliver some 24,000 people to St Stephen’s door each day.
The scheme will also include an array of restaurants, bars, 220-city centre homes, a luxury hotel and 1,550 car park spaces. In addition, it will house a new purpose built home for the internationally acclaimed Hull Truck Theatre Company and the Albemarle Centre for children's music.
Providing units of up to 3,500sqm – some of the largest units available in a town centre anywhere in the UK, St Stephen's will create 2,500 new permanent jobs and 400 temporary jobs during construction’
As you can see it appeared to be a godsend.
If you are visiting Kingston-upon-Hull call in to St Stephens' and see what you think. There something for everyone. Try a coffee at Starbucks, eat in the fish restaurant or just sit and rest your feet.
The problem is that all too many businesses in Hull have relocated to St Stephens'. This has meant that there are lots of shops and businesses closed with no new businesses to take over.
As St Stephen's has a huge car park many visitors who come to Hull for the shopping will visit St Stephens' and go no further. This is a shame as across town there is Whitefriargate which used to be a bustling shopping area. Now every other shop is closed. The museums and other attractions, such as the Quayside and Marina, are also across town and well worth a visit.
So yes St Stephens' is a great place to shop, visit the cinema, go to the theatre, have a meal or simply "spend a penny" but do not neglect the rest of the city centre. There is so much more on offer.
St Stephen Shops are open:
It is located along Ferensway in the centre of Hull, East Yorkshire.
Opening times will vary during the pre Christmas period.