Wednesday 22nd January 2020
Firmstart (Manchester) Ltd started in 1986 as an enterprise training centre, based in Ardwick, near Central Manchester. Encouraging local unemployed people to explore self employment as an option, the company trained young entrepreuneurs, supporting them through their initial years of setting up. After four years the company acquired and moved to St Wilfrid's former Church, in Hulme. The reduction in size of the local congregation, and the ongoing maintenance liability of this grade 2 listed building led the Salford Roman Catholic Diocesan Trustees to the view that a smaller, more modern church would be appropriate to the needs of its parishioners as the millenium approached. Thus the church was deconsecrated and the former social club of St Wilfrid's parish was converted into the modern church. This opened at Christmas 1990. A number of Firmstart's client microbusinesses were accommodated within the former church between 1990 and 1993, and various training and self-employment strategies were tested. During this time Firmstart raised funds for the conversion of the building, and in 1993 appointed a project manager and architect to oversee the works. The building was converted into a managed workspace between May 1993 and June 1994 under Firmstart's direct supervision. Though specialist contractors were required for some of the construction, the bulk of the subcontractors and labour force on the job were local, in some cases parishioners of the former church.
Business Centre opens
St Wilfrid's Enterprise Centre was officially opened by the then 'Minister for Manchester', Robert Key MP, on 1st June 1994. Throughout this time Firmstart continued to offer training and advice in self employment, as well as now taking on the management of the Centre, letting out the 20 workspace units that had been created within, to local businesses and other organisations. Pictured here, in 1994, are John Hacking (Managing Director), John Nancollis (Development Manager), Tony 'Anthony H' Wilson, Fr Philip Sumner (Chair), and John Glendenning (Construction Manager).
Firmstart (Manchester) Ltd, together with Portico Housing Association (who became Contour Housing Group Ltd, and are now part of Symphony Housing Group Ltd), arranged the conversion of the former Cornbrook School in the St George's district of Hulme into managed workspace. The Cornbrook Enterprise Centre, comprising twelve units, was opened in 1998 and from that time Firmstart (Manchester) Ltd managed and marketed the property since then on behalf of Contour.
Firmstart (Manchester) Ltd converted to a community interest company in August 2011, and is now Firmstart (Manchester) CIC. It continues to market and manage St Wilfrid's and Cornbrook Enterprise Centres, and is planning major envrionmental upgrades to the St Wilfrids site and buildings The company offers a property finding service, allowing local commercial landlords to advertise their units, as well as enabling businesses to find local workspace appropriate for their needs. Members and directors have also continued the company's 'social' role, supporting local organisations such as the Wesley Community Furniture Ltd, ArcspaceManchester CIC, Third Sector Essentials, and Ex-Cell Solutions, through Board membership, management and participation.
Firmstart (Manchester) CIC is looking at strategies to support and develop the commercial and social environment of its client areas of Moss Side and Hulme, whilst also considering the long term future of the St Wilfrids building and site within this context. A redevelopment plan for the St Wilfrids Site, comprising the Enterprise Centre building and the former parish hall, and associated land, is being investigated. The objective of this plan is to create a holistic, sustainable community workspace and enterprise hub, with particular emphasis on the environmental performance of the site and facilities. It is likely that some form of greater structure, such as a community shares co-operative, or land or community development trust will be established to drive this project forward.