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Family friendly vision for Rotherham town centre

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The masterplan for Rotherham town centre made clear that retail is not the answer as the focus shifts to other town centre uses such as leisure and housing. Now, those working hard to make the plans a reality have been discussing that the new offer should be family friendly.

The masterplan, adopted in 2017, has the Forge Island project as the one that will kickstart regeneration in the town centre. Work is underway on the site of the former Tesco store that is set to be home to an eight screen cinema, a 69 bed hotel, four restaurants and car parking.

The town centre has been without a cinema – a firm family favourite – for over 30 years. With Arc Cinemas signed up, construction was scheduled to begin in autumn 2021.

And with funding confirmed, further family friendly projects on the table include a new central library, further green space (like Snail Yard, cgi above), a fan zone at the Guest & Chrimes site next to the stadium, and the Grimm & Co redevelopment.

Cllr, Denise Lelliott, cabinet member for jobs and the local economy at Rotherham Council, said: “I think what people really want is the family and lifestyle offer. It’s somewhere where they can go and get that family experience. So, for example, working in partnership with Grimm & Co.”

The literacy charity had begun a move to larger premises when the COVID pandemic hit. Proposals were approved to enable an expansion into the former Talbot Lane Methodist Church and Grimm & Co now plans to start on a transformed story destination, initiating works to create a new and improved Grimm & Co, a magical emporium of stories for the centre of Rotherham, serving Yorkshire, Humber and beyond.

In addition to more space for magical workshops, the unique gift shop will be recreated within a new story destination for families, including an independent bookshop and café with magical and mortal menu options.

Deborah Bullivant, founding director of Grimm & Co, said: “Rotherham was the perfect place to set up a charity like this. It’s a hidden gem in South Yorkshire. The children we work with talk to us all the time about how they re-imagine Rotherham. They talked about green spaces, the rivers. They talked about exciting new arts experiences that they can engage in.

“They talked about independent shops that wouldn’t just be shops for you to go and buy something but you would go in and would really engage in those shops and with the people around the town.

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“And everybody’s talking about this now, the retail experience. It’s much more than just going into a shop, getting what you need and going home. It’s more about feeling like you’ve gone out, you’ve enjoyed yourself, you’ve done something that you might not have done before and then you take that experience home in your head.

“It’s about being playful with space and it’s about enjoying being in the outdoors, not closed in, and going from shop to shop, from space to space, having a coffee and then going into an experience like the cinema, an art experience, a gallery. That’s what Rotherham’s new model is looking like. It’s an experiential town centre and lots of cultures coming together learning about each other.”

Rotherham is planning to brand itself as the world’s first Children’s Capital of Culture in 2025. The move is part of a new cultural strategy with an action that is described as highlighting Rotherham as “a place people want to visit, where everyone can enjoy Rotherham through the eyes, ears and actions of children and young people.”

With high profile events like Rotherham United’s AESSEAL New York Stadium hosting four games at the UEFA Women’s Euros in 2022, Cllr. Lelliott is looking forward to more people experiencing the borough’s “wonderful warm community.”

Lelliott added: “I think Rotherham town centre in years to come should be feeling like you are coming home. That you come to a place that is full of warmth, welcoming, happy families and really, really good community feel for it.”

Images: RMBC

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Tom Austen
Tom grew up in Aston, Rotherham and studied Human Geography at Nottingham Trent University before developing a passion for promoting Rotherham and a nose for a good story.

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