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Prestwich - how creativity thrives in the Manchester suburb

PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 October 2018

View toward Village Greens at the Longfield Centre

View toward Village Greens at the Longfield Centre

Archant

In 1972, a hoard of ancient silver coins was discovered in Prestwich. These days, they’re hoping to strike gold with an unbeatable mix of community, creativity and independent shops but for one craftsperson, silver is still the way to go.

Fiona Lee of Rose and Lee interiorsFiona Lee of Rose and Lee interiors

Cloversoul, a silver jewellery workshop, is owned and run by Bec Hyde and it’s a material that she intends to stick with. ‘It suits most people and it’s really fashionable at the moment, so why change?’ asks Bec who, hand makes all her own designs which can be found in Manchester’s Royal Exchange and trendy boutiques from Scotland to Devon.

One day, she hopes to be stocked in the Isle of Skye as she knows the geography of it rather well! ‘A chap asked me to make a pendant and pair of earrings in an exact miniature replica of the island for his partner, as it was a place that was very special to them,’ says Bec who uses traditional tools and, more unusually, an electric crockpot in which to store her acid solution.

‘So far, no-one has mistaken it for soup although people do look longingly at it, especially on a cold day,’ she laughs.

Fiona Lee is another creative lady running her own business. She opened her luxury home and lifestyle store, Rose and Lee, four years ago. Filled with an eclectic mixture of antiques and modern items such as Frida Kahlo cushions, Fiona will also track down requested objects – most recently, a 200-year-old scrolled gilt mirror.

Bec Hyde of Cloversoul JewelleryBec Hyde of Cloversoul Jewellery

‘I’ve been here for four years but I didn’t want to be anywhere else but on Prestwich High Street. My family have had a presence here dealing in antiques since 1975. In fact, it’s from my dad and his brother – Luigi and Franco Rossi – that I learned my trade. They don’t have a shop anymore, so I still fly the flag,’ says Fiona, who also offers an upholstery service, interior and event design, furniture painting and, just in case there is a spare moment, makes her own candles.

There really is very little that Fiona can’t do in the world of interior design but if you should need a chat about nuclear disarmament while you look at soft furnishings, then she’s your girl. ‘Yes, I have a higher degree in that subject but blood will out, I guess and when it came right down to it I wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps,’ says Fiona.

One thing that Fiona cheerfully admits she knows little about is plants but if you pop across the road to Nonsense, you will enter a veritable jungle of greenery and not a flower in sight!

‘No, no blooms here, although people will still ask where are the flowers! We stock only indoor plants from those you might expect, such as Mother in Law’s Tongue to more unusual ones like the dramatic Monstera Karsteniana,’ says Jeanette Ramirez, who runs the business with her husband, Alex Newton.

Alex Newton and Jeanette Ramirez of NonsenseAlex Newton and Jeanette Ramirez of Nonsense

She makes regular trips to Holland to hand pick the very best of what is on offer, making a point of bringing back some plants that people in the UK may not recognise. Her reputation as a plant specialist means customers now come from all over the north of England to take advantage of her knowledge.

‘We even have a reading corner, where customers can sit and read about plants and, of course, we are here to offer advice and calm frazzled nerves if we get a call saying that a plant isn’t thriving in a customer’s home. Sometimes it’s as simple as explaining that yes, even cacti need water,’ laughs Alex, who with Jeanette, has a plant hospital in the shop where aftercare can be given to those plants that need an extra spot of TLC.

Nonsense – a name picked at random – is an oasis of green calm and there’s plenty of that to be found in Heaton Park. It’s here that Glen Duckett, who owns The Eagle and Child in Ramsbottom, runs The Stable and The Pavilion Cafes. Glenn, who not only has a reputation for great food, with Lancashire Life awards to name a few, is also well known for his commitment to the environment and local community.

‘There’s no reason why all these things can’t work well together and I think I’ve proved that they can,’ says Glen, who offers jobs to disadvantaged young people who might find it difficult to gain employment elsewhere. They train in a variety of roles from front of house to cooking. Glen’s stylish refurbishment of both premises have ensured that many plan their trip to the park around a visit to one of them. The food is so good that the Deli, which is based in The Stables, has to work pretty hard to keep up with demand from those who want to enjoy the food in a park picnic or take it home for later.

Rebecca Jackson and Glen Duckett with a Bee in the City sculpture which is positioned in front of The Pavilion, Heaton ParkRebecca Jackson and Glen Duckett with a Bee in the City sculpture which is positioned in front of The Pavilion, Heaton Park

‘Don’t worry about food miles either. Much of our produce comes what we grow ourselves just around the corner and even the honey is made right here in the park. It is home to the Manchester Beekeepers’ Association,’ says Glen who keeps both establishments open all year round.

A sense of community is hugely important to Glen and that is something which he has in common with other Prestwich residents, who are proud of their area’s distinctive character.

‘Prestwich really does have a flavour all of its own,’ says Jane Thomson, chairwoman of the very first Prestwich Arts Festival. ‘Our High Street is full of thriving independent shops and I think we must have one of the highest concentrations of creative people anywhere in the area.

‘Mix that with the fact that it is a community orientated neighbourhood and you might just come up with the idea of an arts festival. Granted, I came up with the idea late at night but when I ran it past others in the cold light of day, it sounded as if it might just be possible and, with a fabulous hard working committee, it’s become a reality.’

Prestwich Arts Festival; Verity Riley, Oliver Bishop aka Professor Jigget and Jane ThomsonPrestwich Arts Festival; Verity Riley, Oliver Bishop aka Professor Jigget and Jane Thomson

Sponsors were found, grants secured for the festival, which was taking place on September 29 and 30 at various venues in Prestwich.

You don’t have to look too hard to find treasure in Prestwich: there may not be any more buried coins but who needs them when there are so many rich seams of creativity and community.

The pick of Prestwich

Members of Besses Boys' Band;  James Holt, Bradley Hirst, Ellie Mead, Claire Holt, Victoria Dennis Joel Rongong and Sam HeathMembers of Besses Boys' Band; James Holt, Bradley Hirst, Ellie Mead, Claire Holt, Victoria Dennis Joel Rongong and Sam Heath

It is home to two of the country’s leading kitchen designers: Diane Berry and Stuart Frazer. Both offer a top class service-from design to installation-that transforms Prestwich into a Camelot for those who want their holy grail to take the shape of an amazing kitchen.

Prestwich High Street has recently undergone a transformation and there are plans afoot to rejuvenate the Longfield Centre.

It is the birthplace of many creative people. Comedian Victoria Wood was born there and brought up in Bury and it was also home to choreographer Arlene Phillips and the prize winning novelist, Howard Jacobson.

Heaton Park, at 600 acres, is the largest municipal park in Europe. We’re lucky to still have it, as in the 19th century the then owner, the Earl of Witton, tried to sell it off as a site for housing.

Prestwich Carnival takes place every summer but the Victorians thought it promoted drunkenness and debauchery and banned it. It made a comeback in the 1920s and, apart from a break during WW2, it’s been going ever since: we don’t know whether the debauchery and drunkenness is better or worse!

Band that was banned

Music has always been important to Prestwich and this October, the world famous Besses Boys’ Band – so good they were once banned from entering competions – is celebrating its 75th birthday with a gala concert and exhibition at Victoria Hall, Bolton, on the October 13.

‘We’re expecting a great crowd, with former band members attending from all over the world,’ says vice chairman and cornet player, Bradley Hirst.

‘It is going to be a brilliant evening with world class playing. There is an exhibition with masses of photographs and memories, as well as past uniforms – they’ve always had blue in them somewhere and our modern one keeps that tradition going. Our history is massively important to us but we embrace change too, such as the happy addition of lady members.’ Bradley is so devoted to the band that he thinks nothing of clambering into attics and cellars of past members in search of anything that might prove to be band history gold.

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