Chron visits northern market town to get inspiration for Northampton's Market Square

The butchers, the bakers and the craft beer makers '“ Altrincham's Market House and covered outdoor market has been a catalyst for town centre change.

Monday, 29th October 2018, 10:31 am
Updated Monday, 29th October 2018, 12:30 pm
Altrincham Market House and Altrincham Market boss Jenny Thompson with market manager Paul Flannery.

It's been a cheerless time for Northampton's high street - but are all town centre's on their knees? In a bid to find a solution to Northampton town centre's gloominess the Chronicle & Echo visited a market town in the north to see how they turned their ghost town into a boom town.

After a £200,000 revamp, using council and private cash, Altrincham’s grade II listed Market House has become one of the hottest spots in Greater Manchester to be a foodie.After husband and wife Nick Johnson and Jenny Thompson took on the unloved Market House back in 2013, as well as the outdoor market, they were daunted by the mammoth task that lay ahead of them.So how did they get a market – with just eight traders – back on its feet?The 19th century covered market, similar to Northampton’s, played host to underwear sellers and greetings card stands while Market House often saw toilet roll sellers, and traded on Saturday mornings and Tuesdays only.The pair, who were parents to four small children at the time when they took on the project, were asked by leader of Trafford Borough Council Matt Colledge to privately operate the market using Nick’s vision as a town centre generator with 25 years in the business.After reluctantly taking both markets on the pair, who invested £100,000 of their own money, were not expecting the success that lay ahead of them.The 180-seater Market House dining hall, next to Altrincham’s covered market, is now home to 10 of the region’s finest independent food and drink sellers, from pizza maker to craft beer sellers and a chocolaterie. Meanwhile the outdoor market close by plays host to a independent shopping experience with a quality butchers, home-made pottery stall, and jewellery stand, among others.

But success did not happen overnight for the Hale pair, who had never before visited Altrincham in 25 years. It was a five-year labour of love.

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Tables and chairs line the streets, next to Market House, for diners to eat outdoors. The food market has been a catalyst for a new cafe culture in the town.

Jenny said: “I really thought I would be able to approach people and they would come. “But when I said to them: ‘would you come to Altrincham market?’ they said: ‘you’ve got to be joking’.

"It went on and on and I would say probably some Saturdays and Sundays I would have scraped together eight traders.” The couple, who are both from market towns themselves, wanted the market to be for everyone and anyone, whatever the weather. “We set out to be a celebration of the best produce and producers in the north west, all in one place, not necessarily food," Jenny added.“The idea behind Market House was somewhere for people to meet and eat locally produced and sourced food while shopping at the market.

"We set out to make the whole market feel inclusive and everyone is made to feel welcome.

"We have three members of staff with differing special needs who work with us too.”

One of Market Houses first traders Rich Carver, who owns Honest Crust, started with a mobile pizza oven on the market at weekends. He now sells between 250 and 350 pizzas a day in Altrincham. Rich is pictured with Sarah Thrussell.

Now Altrincham Market is bustling with 60 traders, depending on the day, and Market House feeds 10,000 hungry bellies a week.Not only has it been successful in its own right but it is now a hub, which has been a catalyst for kick-starting a cafe culture nearby.

“Matt Colledge [former leader of Trafford Borough Council] was right to say that it was a market town.

"The centre of a town is the market so that was the place to start,” Jenny added.

Altrincham Market, situated next to Market House, has over 60 traders selling their wares.
Holly Travis of family jewellery business Kanoa Living started trading at Altrincham Market three years ago. She said of Altrincham Market: Its such a great way to be able to sell your stuff. Not a lot of people can afford a shop. We are around a lot of people who want to make their little dreams come true as well. The business sells ethically hand-made jewellery by the Travis family, and from around the world, inspired by different cultures, mother nature and ancient healing methods.
Revamped Market House, which used to be home to toilet roll sellers, now serves 10,000 people every week.
Ang Matthews and her husband Ian Wild have been trading on Altrincham Market for nearly three years, after the hobbyists took a career change. Ang, who used to work at Vivienne Westwood, would sell her Fire Station Square Pottery for a couple of years at Christmas markets in Manchester and Ian, the sound engineer for electronic music group 808 State, would work all year round for her to be able to do so.Now Ian, affectionately known to Ang as the Rock N Roll Potter, throws pottery at home while Ang takes to Altrincham Market five days a week to sell their wares.
Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds.