NW business briefs: Total Fitness; Queer Lit; Preston City Council; Merchr; Manchester Hoteliers’ Association; Howorth Air

Total Fitness, the Wilmslow-based fitness club operator, is completing a £310,000 refurbishment of its Preston Club.

The makeover will transform the lower and upper floor gym, as well as the café which will see new furniture and re-upholstered seating fitted to make it an inviting space to relax after a gym session.

The club will see new equipment installed in the Lower Gym with a new multi-functional rig, complete with slam balls, kettlebells, sandbags, wall balls and a squat rack. New rubber flooring will also be installed around the rig, with vinyl flooring in the surrounding area creating more space for members to workout.

The Upper Gym will be refurbished to include an eight-station machine, T-bar row machine, free weight benches and new life fitness leg presses, alongside new flooring in the Women’s Gym. The investment will transform the original spin studios with new state-of-the-art bikes which will be installed as part of the new spin experience, allowing members to focus on reaching their goals in an explosive new way.

As well as the investments made in new equipment, Total Fitness has transformed the interior look throughout the different spaces in the Preston club, making it an enticing space for members to work out and improve their fitness.

Garran St Vall, general manager at Total Fitness Preston, said: “We’re thrilled to see the investment that has been committed to refurbishing our Preston club. With new state-of-the-art equipment, revamped spaces, and an exciting spin experience to be expected as part of the refurb, we’re aiming to create an inviting and motivating environment for our members.”


Queer Lit

Independent LGBTQ+ bookshop, Queer Lit, has received a £100,000 loan from NPIF-River & GC Microfinance, which GC Business Finance (GCBF) manages in partnership with River Capital as part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF).

Founded by Matthew Cornford, Queer Lit was established to represent Manchester’s gay community, making it easier for the LGBTQ+ community to access literature that represents them. Having grown from providing around 700 titles online to providing more than 3,000 titles since opening its first physical store in 2021, Queer Lit has supported LGBTQ+ causes through its abundance of donations.

To open its first physical store on Manchester’s Tib Street, Cornford secured a Start Up Loan from GCBF. Subsequently, he worked closely with senior loan manager, Andy Nichols to secure the necessary funding to move from the existing premises to a larger store on Greater Ancoats Street. The new premises, called the Social Refuge, comprises a larger bookshop, as well as a coffee shop, co-working area, and events space with the intention of being a hub for Manchester’s LGBTQ+ community. To celebrate the new opening, it hosted its first event in October in partnership with Pride in Leadership.

Matthew Cornford said: “Availability to information is incredibly important to the LGBTQ+ community, with Manchester becoming the cornerstone of historic queer culture. Queer Lit’s new relocation will serve to fulfil this purpose, creating an engaging platform for accessing key literature, while also offering new community-led initiatives.”

Andy Nichols, senior loan manager at GC Business Finance, said: “It’s been a pleasure to work closely with Matthew to build this funding package, ensuring this unique business continues to expand and grow.”


Representatives from the business sector and Preston City Council were formally presented with a Purple Flag recently. It followed the earlier announcement that the city had once again received the coveted accreditation for its nightlife, safety and culture.

The flag, which is currently sited at the Town Hall, will have a permanent city centre home and will be a reassuring sight for all visitors and new and returning students, in the run up to Christmas.

Like the Blue Flags scheme for beaches, Purple Flag status is given to town centres that meet or surpass the standards of excellence in managing the evening and night time economy and is seen as the gold standard. Preston was one of the first destinations in the UK to win the award when it was launched in 2011 and has retained it for more than a decade. It is the only place in Lancashire to have received the accolade.

Mark Whittle, from Preston City Centre Business Improvement District (BID), said: “It highlights our commitment to community safety, and we will continue to work with all businesses to ensure Preston is a safe, welcoming and vibrant night time destination.”

In addition to the Purple Flag, visitors, shoppers and revellers can also be reassured by the continuing visible presence of the Street Safety Officers, who will be out and about over the festive season and well into the New Year. The team, who operate out of the Box Market, are funded through a UK Shared Prosperity Fund grant and are there to help anyone who feels vulnerable or becomes unwell.


Salford Red Devils merchandise

Print-on-demand merchandise platform Merchr has made two new signings in professional sports, striking partnerships with Betfred Super League side Salford Red Devils and Oldham Athletic FC, enabling both clubs to supply online ranges of personalised, made-to-order merchandise to their fans.

The Red Devils’ e-commerce store is directly integrated with Merchr, while Oldham supporters can order items via a QR code in the club’s Athletic Store as well as via the Latics’ website.

Jack Fox, co-founder and head of e-Commerce at Merchr, said: “With our production facility in Greater Manchester, we are proud to partner with both clubs, which have a strong presence and rich heritage in the area. We look forward to working with both clubs to add more products in the coming months and to expanding our partnerships with other sports clubs as the Merchr platform continues its rapid growth.”

Hannah Edge, partnerships manager at Salford Red Devils, said: “This partnership represents our commitment to our dedicated fan base, as we aim to provide them with an exciting and diverse range of high quality merchandise that reflects their passion and unwavering support for the club.”

Matt Kirkham, Oldham Athletic store’s retail manager, said: “Our fans love the improvements we’ve been making to the Athletic Store over the past year and we’re excited to now be offering an even wider online range supported by the tried and tested Merchr platform.”


MHA Annual Ball

The date of the Manchester Hoteliers’ Association Annual Ball, which celebrates the unsung heroes of the hospitality industry, has been confirmed.

It will take place at the Vermilion on March 22, 2024, with more than 650 people from the region’s hospitality industry expected to attend.

In its 19th year, the ball aims to raise £40,000 for charitable causes. The awards honour the dedication and accomplishments of those driving the industry forward, highlighting the individuals and teams who tirelessly contribute to the sector.

Adrian Ellis, chair of the MHA and general manager of The Lowry, said: “We are thrilled to see the return of the MHA Ball, a fantastic occasion to honour our industry.

“While our aim is to raise funds for deserving local charities, we will also take the opportunity to acknowledge and commend the dedicated individuals within the sector. We are eagerly looking forward to the MHA Annual Ball and extend our gratitude to the Vermilion for hosting.”


Carlo Rava, left, and pharma ops manager Dave Preston

A clean air technology business has expanded its operations to accommodate a growing team.

Howorth Air Technology has created a dedicated hub for its design engineers based at its pharmaceuticals industry facility at Raven Locks in Little Hulton, Salford. The new single-storey building in the grounds of the existing facility has freed up office space to accommodate an influx of new staff as Howorth’s pharma division continues to grow.

Howorth has taken on 12 additional staff in the division so far this year and further recruitment is under way. The new hub houses Howorth’s team of mechanical design engineers and electrical, controls and instrumentation design engineers, and will be also be used as a training suite.

The company, which has its headquarters in Farnworth, Bolton, designs, manufactures and assembles ultra clean air equipment for use in operating theatres, and for the pharma, biotechnology and life science industries. It designs, assembles and supplies containment equipment for the pharma industry, such as isolators and downflow booths, to create pure air working environments for the safe handling and processing of active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Carlo Rava, Howorth’s pharma operations director, said that following a return to a more normal working pattern and amid ongoing recruitment, staff numbers at Raven Locks outgrew the available office space. He said: “We looked at ways to expand without taking up precious shopfloor space, and decided the best solution was to develop a hub where the design engineers could be based, with scope to expand further and train new recruits.”