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Watch residents and traders have their say on plans to regenerate Sunderland's Vilette Road shopping area as part of new national scheme

Residents and traders have welcomed plans to regenerate the former economic heart of Sunderland as part of a new national scheme.

By Kevin Clark
Friday, 10th June 2022, 4:07 pm
Updated Friday, 10th June 2022, 4:07 pm

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Villette Road in Hendon is one of five locations across England chosen to pilot a Community Improvement District with backing from community business support specialist Power to Change.

Community Improvement Districts are similar to Business Improvement Districts – such as the one operating in Sunderland city centre – but give local people and community organisations, as well as businesses, a say over the direction their local high street should take.

Hendon regeneration agency Back on the Map has been given a £20,000 grant and will be offered expert support and guidance to set up and run a Community Improvement District in Villette Road.

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Once the economic heart of Sunderland, Hendon is today in the 10% most rundown and deprived areas in England.

Back on the Map chair Julie Gray said the scheme was a chance to breath new life into the street: "We are delighted to have the opportunity to develop a Community Improvement District in Hendon.

"Each day our Trustees, volunteers and staff strive to make Hendon a better place. The £20,000 funding will support Back on the Map to develop ideas with the local community about its vision for our high street.

"This project will be integral in building on our track record to create a sustainable community and will further support our efforts to establish a high street for the future on Villette Road."

Villette Road is in line for a new Community Improvement District

Traders and shoppers in the street welcomed moves to reverse its decline.

Tony Franklin, who works with dad George in the family butcher’s shop, said high streets had been the victims of changing social trends and Government policies.

"What killed the High Streets was when the Government decided they would stop paying people’s pensions and benefits through the Post Office, “ he said.

"People would come down to the Post Office to get their money, then spend it in the local area – now they don’t need to.

Back on the Map chair Julie Gray

"Years ago, only one person in a family would go out to work. Now they both have to and by the time they finish, the local shops are shut. They have no choice but to go to the supermarket.”

Customer John Cowley said he tried his best to support businesses in the area but Villette Road desperately needed a greengrocer: “I have to go to Chester Road to buy fruit and veg,” he said.

Villette Road had once been a thriving shopping street: “We had a grocer, and a fishmonger, clothes shop and shoe shops and we used to have two butchers,” said John.

Mick Naughton, 60, has just opened his business, Micky’s Munchies, in the last four weeks and has been pleased with how it has gone. He agreed a fruit and veg shop was needed to round off the street but warned it would have to be supported by the community.

Shut-up shops in Vilette Road

"We have got a butcher, we’ve got a baker, but you do need a greengrocer,” he said. “There must have been grocers in the street before – the fact there isn’t one anymore means it must not have been profitable.

"People are asking for it but they need to be using it too.”

Nicola Martinez works for Mick and has lived in Hendon all her life. She believes the area has suffered from being close to the expanding city centre: “As the town has got bigger and better, people have started going there,” said Nicola, 55.

"But the big deal was when the fruit and veg shops went – that just seemed to be the death of the road.

"Now I think there are too many takeaways. They are only open at night, so the street looks deserted during the day.”

Across the road at the community cafe, friends Michele Davidson and Terry Wright believe the problems in the area extend beyond the shopping offer on Villette Road itself.

Tony Franklin from Geo Franklin Butchers.

"I was born in Mainsforth Terrace and when I was about nine or ten months old, we moved to Cairo Street – we only moved my mam out in September,” said Michelle, 57.

“I used to be absolutely thriving down here – you had everything you could want in the street but it has gone right backwards now.”

She said the streets around Villette Road needed to be addressed in order to improve the environment and attract people from outside the area to the local shops.

"The back lanes are really bad”, she said.

"People are just fly-tipping constantly and there are always piles of rubbish lying around. The birds get into the bags and scatter stuff all over the place which in turn attracts rats.”

Terry, 57, said the area had suffered from a high turnover of residents as homes had been snapped up by buy-to-let absentee landlords, a trend Back on the Map has been fighting to reverse by buying up empty properties and refurbishing them for rent.

"You could leave your front door open in the old days because you knew people,” said Terry. “Now you don’t know who the landlords are putting in.

"Back on the Map have bought a couple of houses over the road from me and the way they have done them up is really good. I wish they would take a few more over.

"I am a fan of what they are doing, it is good that people get a say in what they want to do.”

He would love to see Villette Road restored to its former glory: "The street used to be fantastic – it was a really good little local shopping centre,” he said.

"But so many shops have closed and the street has gone right down. It is the same in Grangetown - it is the same all over.”

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John Cowley.
Villette Road, Hendon funding for the local area. Nicola Martinez.
A shuttered property
Michelle Davidson from The Community Cafe.
Terry Wright.