Seeking inspiration for places to visit in Stockport? Then why not follow in the footsteps of writer Louise Mulvey, who recently visited Underbanks Gallery – a new art gallery and shop in the historic Underbanks area of Stockport.

“You have to see this,” says Ann-Marie Fowler, providing me with a tour of the Underbanks Gallery and shop she recently opened in the historic heart of Stockport.

In front of us, a flight of stone steps runs left to right, backed by a brick wall. Ann-Marie shines her phone torch onto the breezeblocks at the foot of the (grade two listed) steps – which originally ran between buildings, and then were closed in. The December chill seeps through; it’s one of those moments when I question the wisdom of following someone I’ve just met into a secluded and eerie place. But she’s not the murderous type.

Ann-Marie Fowler, aka Ree, is a property finance specialist with a twist: she trained as an illustrator and is “obsessed” with buildings. In June she moved into a shop on the Underbanks in Stockport and has just opened it for the first exhibition / shop at Underbanks Gallery.

The inspiration came from spotting the studios next door in June; Ree saw the empty shop and saw how it might be. She moved into the first floor and waited. A networking event at Arc (Stockport’s longstanding arts and mental health organisation) encouraged her to contact local artists.

Little Underbank

The response overwhelmed her – “I can’t believe it’s come together so quickly,” she says - not just from artists but from volunteers for the back office, and people to manage social media, troubleshooting and spreadsheets. Local artists Stock and Ford were also integral to the project taking off.

Her enthusiasm to keep the place alive is contagious – in a good way. She’s bowled over by the response. Part of that is due to the art foundation training at Stockport College, turning out people primed to get involved.

There is a cooperative feel to the shop, which invites people to share their response to the pandemic. The inner world can be a resource and a scourge – as anyone who’s spent too long inside their own head knows. So there are plans for wellbeing sessions - directly, through meditation, and indirectly through just getting out of the house and meeting people with similar interests. Or seeing work created.

 “Sometimes we need to know we’re part of something, that there’s something bigger,” Ree adds.

Underbanks Gallery

The investment to restore and revitalise the Underbanks could not have come at a better time, as our world shrank to places we could walk to in thirty minutes. Our daily exercise led to our rediscovering the value of what was nearby.

“I didn’t know I wanted a local, to be recognised”, Ree says, nodding at the pub opposite and the General Store down the street. “Before, I wanted to be anonymous but, with lockdown, I missed seeing the same faces. I needed roots.”

This connection is at the heart of the project. It’s unlocking something that was walled up, gathering dust rather than momentum. Like the stone steps she showed me, this isn’t a flight of fancy, it’s a solid way for local people to develop skills, share ideas and leave their mark. To create a community.

 As a businesswoman, Ree brings financial sense to a charitable enterprise. Artists can sell their work, with a percentage reinvested to ensure future exhibitions. There’s a strong business plan and goals for turnover to make it a going concern. By inviting people to create an exhibition, she has opened more than just a building.

Underbanks Gallery, 9 Little Underbank, Stockport, SK1 1LA, is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10am; late night Thursday 7pm; early close Sunday 4pm; all other days 5pm; Christmas closing 1pm on December 24th.




  1. Chris
    Excellent piece - makes me want to move to Stockport!
  2. Irina
    This is great! Something fresh and much needed to elevate Stockpot even higher, which has, for too long, been a lost gem. Good luck to Ree and the artists involved.

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