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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Ben Arnold

'There were no toilets, it was just a shell' - look at Levy's old station house now

After almost five years of fundraising, construction, blood, sweat and tears, an old railway station house in Levenshulme is about to become a vital part of the community once again. Station South is a cycle cafe, bar, urban garden, restaurant and bike workshop, and is due to throw open its doors tomorrow (March 30).

The project has been a labour of love for its co-directors and local residents Pauline Johnston, Abigail Pound and Mark Jermyn, who formed a collective to save the dilapidated building and restore it to its former glory. Straddling the Fallowfield Loop cycleway, it will provide a great natural break spot for cyclists and families walking the near eight mile route, and also hopes to become a community hub too.

“We had the seed of the idea in 2017,” Johnston told the Manchester Evening News. “We knew the building was here and was empty, and were told that it was just a few years away from falling down. There were no toilets, we had to put the mains electricity in, waste pipes, everything! It was just a shell.”

They secured the use of the building from its owners, Railway Paths Ltd, which oversees the estate of former railway land from the days of British Rail. The station house, which dates back to 1892 and was called Fallowfield South, was previously above the Fallowfield Loop railway line, which was finally closed in 1988.

Station South's co-directors Pauline Johnston, Mark Jermyn and Abigail Pound (Kenny Brown | Manchester Evening News)

It was transformed into the urban cycleway, among the longest in the UK, in the late 90s, and stretches from Chorlton through Whalley Range, Fallowfield and Levenshulme to Gorton.

An initial crowdfunding campaign raised a massive £66,000 for the project, with the directors then unlocking further funding from a host of contributors, including Railway Heritage Trust, Manchester City Council, Sport England, the Key Fund and the Architectural Heritage Fund. In the end, the project raised more than £600,000 to renovate the premises, with the company now certified as a social enterprise.

The bar and restaurant area and the cycle workshop will be open from tomorrow (March 30), with plans for further landscaping of the extensive outside space to commence soon and hopefully be completed by the summer. This will involve a pathway up to the station house from the loop itself, a large outdoor terrace area, a kitchen garden, and space for people of all ages to learn how to ride bikes.

They have a dedicated community involvement coordinator, who will organise community events like group rides, while some areas of the space will be available to rent for other community activities. Meanwhile, the kitchen will be open from the early morning, and throughout the day, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and roasts on Sundays.

A room with a view over the Fallowfield Loop (Kenny Brown | Manchester Evening News)

There will be music and DJs in the evenings, and live music on the weekends too, and when major cycling events are on such as the Giro D’Italia and the Tour De France, the bar plans to show them on big screens.

“It’s a destination cycle cafe, bar and urban garden. It’ll be a place where people can come and make it their own, and enhance it,” Johnstone went on.

And it’s not just the proximity to the Loop cycleway that’s made the project so cycle-centric, but other environmental factors too.

The bar is made using slats from the old velodrome track (Kenny Brown | Manchester Evening News)

“There’s a real need for people to consider how they get about,” she says. “Obviously with the climate crisis and the sheer congestion and pollution on the roads, we need to help make cycling, and walking and active travel, a really viable option. It’s the perfect size city to get about on a bike, and it’s flat.

“The opportunity is there. The culture isn’t quite there yet, but it’s our job to help support the culture of cycling in all of its forms. But cyclists are welcome here and non-cyclists are welcome here, everyone is welcome here.”

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