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Meet the people who make Prestwich tick

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 April 2014

Founder members and volunteers of Village Greens Community Co-op; (Back row) Pam Meachin, Agata Alcaniz, Dom McCann and Jules Bagnoli (Front row) Denise McAvoy, Rachel Getliffe and Janet Kelly (Photographed in Cuckoo cafe bar)

Founder members and volunteers of Village Greens Community Co-op; (Back row) Pam Meachin, Agata Alcaniz, Dom McCann and Jules Bagnoli (Front row) Denise McAvoy, Rachel Getliffe and Janet Kelly (Photographed in Cuckoo cafe bar)

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The signs are promising for Prestwich as it strives to become the new Chorlton, as Paul Mackenzie reports

Tony Walsh and sister, Tina McDonald with A Poem for Prestwich art printsTony Walsh and sister, Tina McDonald with A Poem for Prestwich art prints

The Co-operative movement began in earnest in Rochdale when the Equitable Pioneers opened their first store on Toad Lane in December 1844. The Industrial Revolution saw many people lose their livelihoods as machines took their place and co-operative societies sprang up, offering food at fair prices and honest weights and measures. And just a few miles from the birthplace of co-operation, those ideals are still alive and well.

The Village Greens Co-op is due to open its shop in Prestwich’s Longfield Centre this month. Members have been buying shares in the scheme for months and now almost 400 people have invested and become co-owners of the project.

Rachel Getliffe has been heavily involved in launching the co-op and she said: ‘We will provide high quality, organic and locally grown or produced food at comparable prices to supermarkets. We don’t believe that people should have to pay premium for local organic food.

‘The benefits of the co-op are that it will help reduce waste and food miles and it will also support local growers and keep more money in the local economy.

Jodie Furlong of Ellie Magpie teaching a  workshop in the sewing room (above the shop)Jodie Furlong of Ellie Magpie teaching a workshop in the sewing room (above the shop)

‘We want to give people a reason to come back to the high street. The centre of Prestwich has lost a lot of shops recently and parts of it are looking a bit tired but if we can encourage more people to come and shop on the high street, we will hopefully bring more investment to the area as well.

‘These sorts of shops are popping up all over the UK and seem to be very successful. People want the chance to be able to buy ethically and to support local growers and producers. We have had great support right from the start from the people of Prestwich.

‘Once the shop is open, and we are hoping that will happen this month we want to provide lots of volunteer opportunities and when we can we want to offer apprenticeships and training.’

Rachel, who has a nine-month-old daughter called Lily, is hopeful that one day the Prestwich Village Green co-op could be ranked alongside the long-established and extremely successful Unicorn Co-operative Grocery in Chorlton.

And she’s not the only one who mentions the trendy south Manchester suburb. A recurring phrase on Lancashire Life’s visit to Prestwich is ‘We’d like it to become the Chorlton of the north’.

And while it is true that some parts of Prestwich seem a little sad, there are plenty of green shoots which suggest it could grow into a similarly fashionable enclave of independent shops and cafes and be as popular with the young professional types who are attracted to Chorlton.

There’s already the Aumbry restaurant owned and run by Mary-Ellen McTeague where you generally need to plan your night out a couple of weeks in advance. The single room has just 28 seats and almost as many awards (including the pinnacle of them all, the Lancashire Life Restaurant of the Year prize 2010).

Mary-Ellen, who has previously worked in some of the country’s top kitchens, opened the restaurant almost five years ago and has built a reputation for superb traditional food with a Lancashire accent – Bury black pudding is often on the menu as are black peas with vinegar.

‘We were definitely surprised when the awards started coming,’ the mum of two said. ‘But we wanted to show what we could do and we knew we could do something good. The idea was always to do something of quality and we believe there was definitely room for this in Prestwich. Things are really changing here, it’s a very up-and-coming place.’

The recently opened cuckoo café bar is testament to that and many of the features that locals love about Prestwich appear in a poetic art print created by brother and sister team Tina McDonald and Tony Walsh.

Textile designer Tina worked with poet Tony on the print which fits popular places and institutions into an acrostic poem, using the letters in Prestwich to start each line.

Tina said: ‘It was nice to do something together about Prestwich. It was a bit of a jigsaw getting the emphasis on the key words but we’re pleased with the end result and there has been a very good response.’

The pair have produced a limited edition of 100 prints in each of four colours and Tony, who is a previous poet in residence at the Glastonbury Festival, added: ‘It seemed to be the right time to do it. There’s a lot going on in Prestwich at the moment and the place really seems to be on the up. There is a definite growing sense of pride in Prestwich.’

One of the major events in Prestwich this year will be the third book festival which will see literary events take place on a number of themes. Tony will be involved in the poetry aspect of the festival but there will also be a focus on children’s literature and graphic novels.

Local writer Sherry Ashworth is involved in organising the festival and she said: ‘We wanted to see if we could get a book festival in Prestwich to rival or surpass what they have in south Manchester. There was no book festival that belonged to north Manchester and we felt that Prestwich was the perfect place for it.

‘This is an incredibly interesting place to live with an awful lot more happening than in the past – it’s really putting itself on the map, but I think it has always been cooler than people have realised. It is starting to become a north Manchester Chorlton.

‘In the last couple of years people have come from far and wide and have really enjoyed the events at the festival.’

The bulk of the festival events will take place next month at venues around Prestwich, but many will be held at the library in the Longfield Centre. Librarian Sarah Howell said: ‘The festival was the brainchild of Ebba Brooks and she has really driven it but there is a great team of volunteers and the library has been a constant supporter.’

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