A Nottingham landlord has spoken of how a once no-go area of the city was transformed by the community to become the thriving high street it is now.
Anyone leaving the city centre to the north will know of the hustle and bustle along Mansfield Road, with its longstanding history of retail and restaurant offers.
But the major route has a distinctive charm once you enter Sherwood, which can be put down to a colourful variety of businesses, many of which award-winning.
In recent years, the area has boomed with new ventures and during the pandemic it has been a lifeline to its neighbours.
The chief executive of Sherwood Business Centre, which owns a number of units in the main shopping area, said it was the work of dedicated residents and tenants who helped turn it around.
Mike Douglas first came to Sherwood in 1993 and ran a mobile phone dealership in one of the buildings he now owns.
At the time, the area was not considered safe despite a good community.
Mike said: “There was once a quite dark period in Sherwood – I remember it being referred to as something like ‘the bleak mile’ in the newspapers around the late 90s, and there was a picture showing all the businesses that had been broken in to.
“It was horrible, there were a few phone shops at the time and there were six ramraids in as many months.”
The IT and communications professional who runs a number of his own businesses, looked at where he could use his knowledge.
“When things were bad in Sherwood I became a trustee of Notts Watch and got involved with putting up a whole network of CCTV cameras with the council that we routed back to our base instead of the police having to pay outside organisations to do the same thing.
“Things got a lot better in the area and because it is such a main route, it made such a difference and it’s something I’m so proud of.”
Mike’s business VISAV went on to develop the Neighbourhood Alert message system to complement the existing Neighbourhood Watch service in the area.
Since its conception Neighbourhood Alert is now used by 37 police, fire and rescue, local authority, utility and national organisations throughout the UK.
But neighbourhood responsibility continued in Sherwood, as Mike also spoke about the work residents did to maintain free parking in the area saying it “helped maintain that independent feel”.
He also explained how investment of time and care, as well as money, is what has helped turn Sherwood into what it is today.
“If you invest and raise an area through simple things like litter picking, it validates the area,” he said.
“But people have to see you doing it, and I know we in Sherwood act whenever there is litter or graffiti.
“I wanted to get rid of shutters – you don’t need shutters in Sherwood, because that can drive an area down too.
“We have two economies, day and night and it shows confidence in both those businesses.”
The Sherwood Business Centre has also steadily grown its empire of tenants, but always with the community in mind.
From the initial purchase of the building at 616 Mansfield Road, where Mike had first rented the space for his phone business, he has since purchased 618 and just recently 620.
Along with his wife Lisa, Mike aims to instill his business and community ethos through the tenants he works with.
“When I took on that first building I was told this area would be a goldmine one day,” he said.
“The tenants have all changed so many times but I remember them all.”
Businesses include the former Salad Days greengrocers which has since been taken over by Corner Stone Pizza, 1st Class Nails & Beauty salon, and Karen’s Barber Shop.
Mike also spoke of the success of bringing in a shipping container for what became the Kiosk Café, Corner Stone’s first home and later The Little Brickhouse Café.
“It was the Kiosk owner that mentioned the idea of the container and it became a real feature on the corner,” Mike said.
“Karen from the barbers has gone from strength to strength and Corner Stone is just a great business – it’s all opened my eyes. We’ve built a community.
“They are all fantastic tenants.”
While Mike has other plans in the pipeline, he says his main priority is keeping the balance of what makes Sherwood special.
“You just have to take responsibility for your area and we’re all Sherwood through and through.
“When it comes to new tenants, it’s not about the money, it’s striking the right balance and finding the right fit, what’s best for Sherwood.
“I’d be concerned if any of the larger businesses closed like our Wilko or Boots, because nothing else can afford to take on those rents.
“It’s important to keep shopping local even at these sites, because one drop in footfall could have a massive impact and change the whole dynamic.”
Speaking about the pandemic, which has forced many Sherwood businesses to close, Mike added: “I am a perpetual optimist but I know people are hanging on – I feel thankful for not being in the city centre where it has been tougher.”