How a group of locals went about rebuilding their town centre and creating a new foodie hub
The town centre is dying. It’s getting harder for independent local businesses to compete against city centres, online shopping and out-of-town shopping malls. Traders have had to adapt and once bustling high streets and market halls have suffered as a consequence. Suburbs have started to lose their individual personalities as the same chains move in. A significant percentage of shop units are left empty and many once grand market halls are going to ruin.
Local councils have lacked both impetus and funding to revive town centres, so it’s been up to motivated individuals or communities to do something about it. But exactly how does one go about navigating the logistics of reviving a town centre?
Friday Food Nights have now led to Saturday Supper and Sunday Brunch with live music
We met with Robert Grant from the Radcliffe Community Benefit Society, a group of local volunteers who have got together to rebuild Radcliffe Market hall, create events and opportunities for local businesses and boost the local economy.
Robert is the marketing director and like other members of the board, volunteers in his spare time to help promote the market, its events and traders. When he’s not painting skirting boards or recruiting other volunteers, you’ll find him in his day job as a business mentor and coach.
“There has been a market in the town since 1851,” he told us. “In recent years, the market has had lots of potential that’s never really been tapped into.”
A lady called Jodie Bannister took on the market café, Farrar's, in 2014 and started to build up a community feel. She set about introducing more fine food and vintage handcrafted stalls and applied to the council for a license to put on ‘Friday Food Nights’ to utilise the space when it wasn’t being used. It slowly gathered momentum and sparked an interest in the community.
Jodie met with council officers to talk about the regeneration of Market Hall in line with successful projects in Todmorden, Stockport and Manchester. She then set about recruiting local community business people to form ‘Radcliffe Market Community Benefit Society’, a non-profit community venture run by a board of volunteers which won the council’s subsequent tender to become market operators.
The board applied to the Bright Ideas lottery fund to gain funding to begin infrastructure work on the market hall. They also secured a £60,000 ‘social value’ grant from the GMCVO which went towards installing ventilation for five new fully equipped kitchens and a brand new central bar area.
“We’ve assigned one of the members of our board to source continual streams of funding,” says Grant. “In comparison, Altrincham Market had at least half a million pound for redevelopment. So far, we’ve managed to raise £60,000, so we very much rely on volunteers.
“All the work we have put in to regenerate this building has been done in our own free time, as well as running our own businesses or jobs on the side. So it’s been a passion to get this done for the local community."
The market employs five people under the age of 25 with a view to investing in training them whilst paying them a living wage. Market manager Alan is employed to organise everything traders need and to make sure all the facilities work.
“So many people have given us their time,” adds Grant. “We’ve been very fortunate that brand design agency, True North, have helped develop our brand identity, so that was a real investment from them.”
It’s early days, but Radcliffe Market now has a handful of permanent local independent traders and is happy to take on more. There’s a butcher, a hairdressers, a cobbler, somewhere to get your keys cut, Bell’s eggs, which sells pies and other deli items.
“I think we’ve got space for about 25 traders in total,” says Grant. “The rent they pay is far less than it would be on the high street. They can form a real hub bringing back a bit of civic pride to Radcliffe because people’s perception of our town is lower than it should be, but this sort of thing should be what Radcliffe is all about.
“ASDA sells meat. But you can go to our butcher Kevin, a local guy who buys as locally as he can and has been here for years. You can buy one chop if you like, rather than buying six pre-packaged chops. So you have more choice, more control and a lack of waste.”
In the centre stands a newly built bar with beer supplied by Radcliffe’s Brightside Brewery who have created a special ale for Radcliffe Market which the community named “Paper Makers".
Three food vendors share the biggest fully equipped kitchen: Northern Glory Pies, Le Grand Roti who offer rotisserie style chicken, and Coastal Town serving continental meat and cheese platters and desserts.
Next door, Luisa's Italian has a unit to themselves from which they prepare fresh pizza. On the other side of the bar you’ll find Mogul Punjabi Cuisine, Yo Thai and The Dogs, who provided award-winning quality traditional hotdogs made from Cheshire beef and sides. A tour downstairs through the cavernous basement revealed a polytunnel set up by a member of Incredible Edible to grow enough herbs and mushrooms to be able to sell.
“Any income will be ploughed back into developing the site and our events to help expand the connection we have with the local community,” says Grant.
These include things like tea dances, which they put on with funding from Age and Ambition for older members of the community to come together for a bit of a song, a drink and some food.
They are soon to launch a ‘market shop’, to offer various local traders an outlet to sell their goods without having to permanently man a stall. “It’s about working in unison until we can build up the footfall,” says Grant.
Friday Food Nights have now led to Saturday Supper with live music from 5pm and Sunday Brunch to the sounds of an acoustic with a more laid-back environment.
Sadly Jodie Bannister died in January, but her legacy remains and the future is bright for Radcliffe Market thanks to the Radcliffe Market Community Benefit Society. Plans include the introduction of fine food, vintage and craft stalls as well as vinyl and comic/retro pop-up events.