It’s no secret that Levenshulme is one of the most happening suburbs in South Manchester – and that’s not just the postulating of an extremely biased ex-resident. With its numerous cafes and bars, the weekly market and its phenomenal community spirit, there really is nowhere quite like it.

If you’ve been in Levenshulme recently, you may have noticed a large billboard on one side of the A6 pleading with the public to ‘Please Help Us Fix This Building’. It points to an old building covered in scaffolding, which prior to this flurry of activity still wore the frontage of a cash and carry.

The building’s history belies its unassuming exterior. Opened as Levenshulme Station in 1892 – when the Fallowfield Loop had trains running along it as opposed to… runners – it served the Manchester central line until its closure in 1957, at which point its name had changed to Levenshulme South.

Now, it’s part of a massive crowdfunding campaign launched by three Levenshulme residents – Pauline Johnston, Abigail Pound and Mark Jermyn – to turn the building into a destination cycle cafe, bar, co-working space and urban gardens, named Station South in honour of its heritage.

I sat down with Pauline to learn a little more of the project and why it’s so important for Levenshulme.

How did the idea for Station South come about?

I should probably say that it isn’t actually our idea. It’s an idea that’s been mooted by the community for years. Around 15 years ago, someone from the Green Party thought it would be a good idea to turn it into a kind of cycle cafe. Then, a few years ago, the friends of Fallowfield Loop put together a proposal and tried to take over the building, but weren’t successful. Private businesses have had it on and off for years, but it’s not done much, probably because of the state of the building.

We did a conditional report on the building about 18 months ago and we found out it was five years away from crumbling. We got to work, sitting around a table and coming up with a collaboration agreement.

Where’s the funding for the project come from so far?

We worked with Railway Paths to find money to fix the roof. This was the main thing, so we could make the building watertight. We also used it to do a soft rip out of the building. This was matched very kindly by Railway Heritage Trust. We’ve also got some development funding by the Architectural Heritage Fund, which was matched by Manchester City Council Neighbourhood Investment Fund. It’s been a slog, but we’re bringing people with us along on the journey.

You’ve got some amazing rewards on offer as part of this crowdfunder, like beers and a bike ride with Chris Boardman. How did you manage to get those?

I think I just phoned up! I thought Chris has got to love this. He’s got to get behind it. We also had a few people from TfGM come out and look at the building and I think they were blown away with the idea that something could be done here.

Why do you think Station South is an important thing for Levenshulme?

Levenshulme is an amazing place. It’s an urban village where everyone knows each other and it’s the most colourful suburb in Manchester, as far as I’m concerned. There’s just something here that makes everyone want to work together to make it a better place. We want to be part of that Lev-olution, as we call it. Trove has been here for six years now and they’ve been a neighbourhood staple. Then there’s new things like Jandol, which is Baklava heaven, and you’ve also got the market with its social enterprise aims. We want to be good neighbours to these.

How have the responses been from the community so far?

There’s been a massive swell of support from local radio – All FM – and the trading association are also being supportive. We’ve also visited the mosque and taken some multi-lingual posters down with us, because we want everyone to enjoy this space. We don’t want this to be a micro-independent thing. We want this to be a tourist destination for Levenshulme and to do that at the grassroots level we need to get all of the community on board.

What are the plans for the building?

There’s going to be a bar, a co-working space, an enterprising space for young people and also vegan and vegetarian food. And that’s not to mention the space at the back. One side of the quadrant is part of our lease and for that I keep pushing this Dalston Curve idea. I know Dalston is hipster capital of the world, but there’s this great community park just off the high street, and you wouldn’t know it was there. It’s an urban garden and we want to create something similar with a permaculture space and a big shipping container where you can get bike repairs and also bike hire. We’ve also got a partnership with Enterprise Car Club so you can hire hybrids. We really want to make this an active travel hub.

Why should people get involved in this Crowdfunder? Why should people support Station South?

Manchester needs this – not just Levenshulme. Manchester needs an independent tourist attraction. The way the world is going, we need something that is sustainable, ethical and socially-minded, which is what Station South cycle cafe is definitely going to be.

To view the rewards being offered for your pledges, visit the Station South crowdfunder page: crowdfunder.co.uk/station-south

To find out more about the project and the building’s history, visit their website: stationsouth.co.uk

The Station South team will be at the next Levenshulme Night Market on 14 September, where you can learn more about the project.

David Ewing