Happy Macclesfield

News at Holden & Prescott | 24/08/2023

Sandwiched between the Peak District and the Cheshire Plain is Macclesfield, a historic market town best known for its industrial past and outdoor pursuits.

Once the world’s biggest producer of finished silk, its legacy still looms large today. As well as its preferred moniker ‘Silk Town’ being part of the vernacular, many of the old mills and workers residences remain intact, including Paradise Mill where handlooms still operate.

And while many visit for a glimpse into its past, others make the most of its fantastic location. A gateway into the Peak District and beyond, it's located just 20 minutes from Manchester and 1hr and 45 from London, but offers unrivalled access to the spectacular landscapes of Tegg’s Nose, Macclesfield Forest and Lymn Park.

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Today, its cobblestone streets, hills and former mills provide the ideal backdrop for its flourishing food and drink scene as well as its monthly Treacle Market. Held on the last Sunday of every month, 160 stores selling all manner of artisan treats and vintage treasures descend on the marketplace, creating a real sense of occasion for residents and visitors alike.

Its cobblestone streets, hills and former mills provide the ideal backdrop for its flourishing food and drink scene (Image: Manchester Evening News)

It’s little wonder that it was named as one of the happiest places to live in an annual survey last year. The Cheshire town ranked at number 18 on Rightmove’s Happy at Home Index, just behind Altrincham and Northwich.

More than 21,000 people responded to the property website’s Happy at Home Index, which asked residents how they feel about where they live. Locations were ranked based on factors such as whether people feel there is a sense of belonging, the proximity to green spaces, local amenities and whether there is a community spirit.

With this in mind, this week we paid a visit to Macclesfield to speak to those who work and live there to find out more about what the former industrial hub turned bustling market town has to offer.

Down Church Street just off of the marketplace, lies Pachamama, a family run giftware shop specialising in crystals. John, who moved over to Macclesfield from Leeds 15 years ago, runs a kitchen design and fitting company in Alderley Edge, but is looking after the shop for his wife during the school holidays.

John's wife runs Pachamama, a family run giftware shop specialising in crystals (Image: Manchester Evening News)

“I think Macclesfield ticks a lot of boxes,” he tells us, taking a short break from the plans he is drawing up for an upcoming job. Gesturing outside the shop, he adds: “the hills are just up there, so just five minutes up there it's properly rural and you are immediately in the countryside, so for us that’s a big plus.

“As it’s such a big town I wouldn’t say it's as close-knit between people as say Bollington just down the road, but the independent businesses around here are very close. That said, a lot of the big shops in the town centre have gone, places like M&S and Home Bargains, and that’s left quite a big void, but I guess that’s the same story in many town centres today.”

Nick Carter, who runs his own butcher shop just across the street has witnessed a similar shift in the high street shopping in the town. “This is a really nice street to work on but over the last decade the amount of shops that have closed has really affected how many people are in the town centre. In the actual centre there are no big named shops to bring people in, a big part of that was M&S moving to the Silk Road just outside the centre, but the cafes around here seem to be doing well and that brings in people.”

Nick Carter, who runs his own butcher shop just across the street has witnessed a similar shift in the high street shopping (Image: Manchester Evening News)

Indeed, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of coffee shops and brunch spots opening in the town, all adding to its new and exciting independent food and drink scene. Mika Johnson and his husband Dan Hardman have lived in the town for nearly ten years and in the summer of 2021 decided to open their own coffee shop on Buxton Road after testing the concept out as a pop-up during lockdown.

“Our shop turns two next weekend, which is so exciting and we are proud to say business has gone from strength to strength,” says Mika. “This is no small part due to our supportive community, the town has a very strong sense of pride in its local businesses.

“What attracted us initially to the town is the beautiful surrounding countryside, easy access to Manchester and a direct line to London, but also the thriving market feel of the shops and eateries available.

Chestergate in Macclesfield (Image: Manchester Evening News)

“Buxton Road has absolutely transformed in two years now with an artisan bakery Early Bird Bakes and a pizza and cocktail joint Tommy’s Bar and Bakes opening after us. Rather than be detrimental to us it's opened us up as a real destination for foodies far and wide.”

Last year, Mika and his team made the case for residents and visitors to continue supporting the town’s small, local businesses rather than chains. In November, they took to social media to call out the opening of another Costa Coffee.

“I'd say the main negative is actually almost too many big brands and chain cafes opening, our third Costa seems an unnecessary addition,” adds Mika. “Trying to show people who don't know about us that not only are we more affordable but we are much better quality, and supporting our local coffee roaster and suppliers is our main challenge I’d say. A point which thankfully once we get across, is gratefully received.”

Yas Bean is located on Buxton Road in Macclesfield (Image: Yas Bean)

Another independent coffee shop that has felt the love from the community is Monocle Café on Churchgate - another pocket of the town springing up with new businesses. Owners Ashleigh Blades and Jim Kite took over the space just over a year ago having met while working in coffee shops in Manchester City Centre including Fig & Sparrow and Chapter One.

“I’d say Macclesfield has some good bits from Manchester coming into it like indie bars and coffee shops, so there’s more to do, and because it’s only 20 mins from Manchester it’s basically a satellite town,” says Jim.

“There's a really nice community around here, we’ve got lots of regulars and a lot of people who want to support small businesses, so it’s been a very welcoming start. With the plant shop next door and art print shop and gifts over the road we’re making our own Chestergate community too.”

Arguably one of the biggest launches in the town in recent years has been the Picturedrome, a nine-kitchen and bar food hall from the people behind Altrincham Market and Manchester’s Mackie Mayor. Set within what was Macclesfield’s oldest cinema, it has proved to be a big hit, slinging out everything from vibrant and colourful mezze boards and focaccia butties to hot bowls of ramen and soft crust sourdough pizzas.

Ashleigh Blades and Jim Kite are the owners of Monocle Cafe (Image: Manchester Evening News)

It’s a Wednesday lunchtime and the food hall is packed out with families and young couples. Amidst it all supervisor Neve Hough, who grew up in Macclesfield, is dashing about, keeping everything ticking over. “I think Macclesfield definitely has come a long way in recent years, there’s a lot more to do and visit,” she says.

“I think they’ve taken this from Manchester and thought how can we enhance the food and drink side for the town, so now there’s lots of nice places to go out. Nowadays I don’t need to go to Manchester as much as there’s more options here.

“I think the Picturedrome brings a different kind of atmosphere to other restaurants in town, there’s plenty of options too so if you come with a big group there’s enough to choose from, plus great cocktails and really good local beers.”

However, the rise in food and drink outlets isn’t to everyone’s tastes. Some who live locally think the rise in coffee shops and reduction in household brands on the high street is detrimental to the town. Jane Simpkin, who has lived in the area for 30 years, believes many now shop in out-of-town centres like the one on Silk Road rather than come into the centre.

Picturedrome, a nine-kitchen and bar food hall from the people behind Altrincham Market and Manchester’s Mackie Mayor (Image: Manchester Evening News)

“I think it’s a shame, it could be a really pretty and gorgeous market town but it doesn’t seem to have much investment, feels like everything on the high street has closed, full of coffee shops and nothing else.”

On the uptick in independent food and drink business, Jane thinks this is good, but wants more range. “I feel it needs more of a mix, I would like to see more food shops and clothing shops, because if you compare Macclesfield to Knutsford, they’re similar but it’s prettier and the vibe is better.”

For Louise Wilson who runs Sophia Palucci Boutique, which sells luxury and affordable clothing and accessories, she thinks areas like Churchgate where her business is based is “fabulous” and counts herself lucky to have snapped up a unit on the busy shopping street.

“Business dropped slightly due to Covid, and people started moving online but people who shop with us love coming in and like to feel fabrics plus they like to chat and Chestergate is becoming a hub again with more businesses moving in,” she notes.

Louise Wilson who runs Sophia Palucci Boutique (Image: Manchester Evening News)

“What I like about Macclesfield is you’re central to a lot of places, the train goes into the centre of Manchester and London, but at the same time you’ve got the countryside on your doorstep and you just feel like you’re in a different world when you go up to places like Macclesfield Forest. Plus you’ve got the beauty of all these bars and restaurants, and you’re not far from places like Prestbury, Wilmslow and Alderley Edge. It’s a nice place to live.”

The only thing she is concerned about is the house prices. “I think house prices are rocketing in this area, you can’t get a house to rent especially in Bollington nearby. We sold a house there recently and it went within days, so there’s a demand for people who want this. People want to leave a busy, demanding job in the city and come back to the countryside and it’s overall still a lot more affordable than your Prestbury and Alderley Edge for that type of thing.”

According to Rightmove, Properties in Macclesfield had an overall average price of £295,636 over the last year. Meanwhile, the majority of sales in the area during the last year were terraced properties, selling for an average price of £206,558, while detached properties sold for an average of £540,079, and semi-detached properties fetching £293,707.

Caroline Holden who lives nearby in the village of Langley (Image: Manchester Evening News)

That said, overall, sold prices in Macclesfield over the last year were 9% up on the previous year and 12% up on the 2020 peak of £264,829.

Caroline Holden who lives nearby in the village of Langley visits Macclesfield once a week and finds it to be a very nice area to live. “I think people are friendly, it’s interesting as it’s on the edge of a big national park so you get a mix of rural and urban and it has some very attractive and historical buildings,” she says.

“I do live outside in the country and the ability to live in a properly rural place with deer and hares, combined with a mainline station which is just five minutes away is a big draw. I would say the quality of life in comparison to places closer to Manchester is probably much better.”

Commenting on regeneration plans for the town, Councillor Nick Mannion, vice chair of Cheshire East Council’s economy and growth committee, said: “The council is keen to support the vitality of Macclesfield town centre and has sought to stimulate investment in the town through a number of initiatives including the Castle Street scheme, the Market Place alfresco area and The Treacle Town Art Trail.

“While the nature of the retail offer in Macclesfield – as in any of our towns – is not in the control of the council, our vision for Macclesfield is to cherish and celebrate its distinctive quirkiness, its creativity, its unique heritage, and its strong independent sector.

“We have regular ongoing conversations with many organisations looking to come to Macclesfield and these are very positive because of the unique characteristics the town has.

“It is heartening to see many positive signs of revitalisation emerging and the council will continue to look for opportunities to enhance the town centre further, including targeted submissions for funding to central government to support our vision.”