Altrincham has been undergoing a regeneration. It’s getting its bustle back. Penelope Warde chats to some of the local businesses to find out more
There's no doubt that this re-invention began with the vision of Altrincham market – I still meet people who rave about it and make it their new go-to weekend visit. Completed in 2014, the market and market house are putting the town on the map as a foodie destination. The 19th-century covered market offers quality butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers alongside art and crafts stalls, while the Grade II-listed market house next door provides some of the region's best artisan food and drink outlets with a thriving retail channel, surrounding a 180-seat dining area, which is child and dog friendly as well as accessible.
It has breathed new life into what was a tiring market town. The success of the market house and market has led other independent businesses to open in the surrounding streets and thrive. I, for one, am loving having to use the word ‘independent’ so freely.
The boutique Sugo Pasta Kitchen is just one of these businesses. Run by Alex De Martiis, the idea was cooked up with partner Jonny Marcolgiese, as they were frustrated at the Anglicised Italian restaurants in the UK. With good, honest, South Italian cooking, pasta and oils are imported from Puglia, as is the earthenware; new partnerships have formed with Manchester Veg People and Reserve wines to create new dishes and experiences.
The Altrincham Conservative Working Men's Club adjacent to the market on Greenwood Street has also been transformed. David and Jo Vanderhook, who already own The George Charles in Didsbury and Lime bar in Salford Quays, have created a contemporary industrialist restaurant/bar, complete with Altrincham's first ever micro-brewery. Named Federation, after the brewery that used to provide beers for Britain's working men's clubs, it’s capable of producing up to two brews a week offering customers “great tasting beer brewed especially for them”.
Having said that, it's not just the high quality independents that the re-energised town is attracting. National chains are also joining the resurgence. JD Sports has opened in the Stamford Quarter as part of an ambitious expansion plan, as has the home of the stationery obsessed: Paperchase.
Then there's French restaurant group Bistrot Pierre, which has 16 bistrots across the country. Co-owner Robert Beacham comments, "Altrincham is fast becoming known as a food destination since the historic indoor food market opened its doors again.
“The local economy has been struggling, but now greater investment into Altrincham has encouraged people to spend more time in the town, and we saw it as the ideal location for us to open our latest bistrot.
"There is a big independent scene in the town and, as an independently-owned group, we are passionate about maintaining that environment and experience throughout our bistrots.”
As we go to press, the town has just finished its first Food & Drink Fortnight, complete with Sri Lankan barbecues, healthy eating, a tapas trail, cookery classes and essential Bake Off, and is planning the return of Goose Green Summer Festival. The event forms part of the wider Altrincham Soundbites festival throughout August, which promotes and celebrates Altrincham's music scene, attracting up-and-coming as well as established local names, not to mention over 4,000 visitors.
These events are put on by Altrincham Unlimited, Altrincham's Business Improvement District (BID) which was launched in April 2016 to improve the trading environment of the town centre. And it appears to be working – not just as you walk down the street, but in the pocket.
So far, a positive trend has seen visitor numbers to the town centre up 8.2 per cent on the previous year, despite many of the UK’s other high streets seeing a fall of 0.3 per cent, and the vacancy rate in Altrincham town centre dipping below 10 per cent for the first time since records began.
“Altrincham is definitely back!” says Hugh Pottle, manager of the prestigious David M Robinson Jewellers, which has been in the town since 1989. “Two things are happening: there’s more of a community feel and we are seeing more and more visitors coming into the town to enjoy the market and the restaurants. I think it makes a difference to your lunch or dinner when you can walk into town.”
David M Robinson as a business is a classic example of the new positivity. A stalwart of the Cheshire retail scene, the showroom attracts customers from all over the north west, but Hugh notes that Altrincham itself had the highest number of new VAT registrations for any town in 2016.
“Altrincham people are resourceful and resilient,” he says. “And the re-birth of the town is driven by people with the town’s best interests at heart”.
The BID has also just launched Altrincham Hosts, which is modelled on the successful Knutsford Hosts scheme. It aims to bring together enthusiastic local people and match their skills, talents and interests to the needs of Altrincham organisers, community groups and charities.
Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West, comments at the launch of the initiative, “Altrincham has been on a real journey over the past decade, from a low point of negative national press coverage and high vacancy rates to the vibrant, confident town we see today. This was due in no small part to the dedication and vision of Matt Colledge who, as leader of Trafford Council, championed the regeneration that has well and truly put Altrincham back on its feet. People now feel a real pride in their town, and the Altrincham Hosts project gives them a chance to get involved and make a contribution to its continued success."
Beyond the market house, other major projects include the replacement of the old hospital with a new development – including a health and wellbeing centre, pharmacy, tourist information centre and the relocated Altrincham Library – with completion scheduled for summer 2018.
The first phase of the £70m, 4.5-acre Altair project is underway, with the demolition of the former ATS centre on Oakfield Road and the launch, by developers Nikal, of a 59-apartment development with ground floor retail and roof garden, that should also be ready by spring 2019. Further phases will include 91 more apartments, 44,000 sq ft of leisure retail space, 20,000 sq ft of Grade-A office space, a 200-space basement car park and a new leisure centre.
“It's an exciting time for Altrincham," says Nikal managing director, Nick Payne. "The town centre is evolving and it has already become a popular place to live, work and socialise. We’re excited to be sharing our vision for Altair as a dynamic and thriving new quarter in modern Altrincham, providing high-quality, affordable new homes where values will appreciate, as well as creating exciting new opportunities for retailers, leisure providers and businesses, with unrivalled transport links and amenities."
Deputy leader, Cllr Alex Williams adds, “To see developers, new and relocating businesses and increased numbers of shoppers all choosing Altrincham as their destination of choice, is testimony to the high quality opportunities and prospects the town centre offers.
“By working together, we are all ensuring that Altrincham once again shines as the region’s premier ‘go-to’ destination.”