“Unique” market can follow London and regenerate the whole town, says Johnson

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The newly refurbished Altrincham Market can be a “catalyst” for change in the town – and emulate the success of famous London markets such as Borough and Broadway.

That’s the view of Nick Johnson, the chief executive of Market Operations, which has just spent £550,000 of Trafford Council money to expand and rejuvenate the historic marketplace.

Extensive work has included the relocation of the outdoor market to a new, covered market square and the restoration of Market House.

Originally built in the 1880s, the House has had its lighting, plumbing, electrics and ventilation updated, while its toilets have been refurbished and WiFi introduced.

Many of the listed building’s original features, such as its brickwork facades, internal and external iron work and glazed roofs, have been restored.

Stall fronts and counters have also been redone, and the Hall’s maple flooring has been entirely reclaimed from the former Chelsea Army Barracks in London.

And Johnson, who has worked seven days a week since October to see the transformation through, believes the market’s “unique” qualities should see Altrincham bring in people from across the North West.

“The ambition is to be an integral part of the local community and serve those people who have been incredibly loyal to us since we started in October, but at the same time we want to bring a new audience into Altrincham to assist it in its ambition to reinvent itself as a modern market town,” Johnson said.

“I’ve always said that it’s an original market town but what it now needs to be is not only a modern market town but the modern market town, and if you’re going to be the modern market town you need at your heart a modern market.

“That’s not to undermine the traditional market because it still has a role, but we need to broaden its appeal and make it a richer experience by looking at what happens in other modern markets.

“So you look at Borough Market, Broadway Market, Columbia Road – all London precedents which are all incredibly vibrant and the kind of markets that people know about.

“They’ve had profound effects and the great thing is that a market can be used as a very cost-effective tool for regeneration, you can do it without major capital, and you can do it quickly.

“We have the ability in Altrincham, uniquely, to deliver something that you can’t actually deliver anywhere else in the North West, because you’re taking that historic market charter and you’re reappropriating that for a new generation.”

He added: “What’s really interesting about the people coming down on a Sunday is that we’re flooded with prams and kids – there’s a whole new generation that the market is appealing to, and that’s what’s vital.”

Two of the new permanent tenants in Market House are Honest Crust (“in my view some of the best pizzas outside of Italy”, says Johnson) and the ‘purveyor of fine comfort food’, Ginger Kid, who recently relocated to the North West after a career working at five-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants in London.

Other regular traders include Jeremy Dixon, a judge in the World Cheese Awards who supplies Simon Rogan with award-winning butter at L’Enclume in Cartmel.

“There’s a guy who makes something within the North West that is truly world-class,” added Johnson, “and we are happily the platform for him to sell his cheese and other cheeses to an audience that is appreciative.

“That times 100, times 1000 is where this is headed – we can bring together these really great producers in one space.

“It’s not just food – there are loads of incredibly talented people in the North West who don’t have an outlet and very deliberately we’ve said that Altrincham Market is an experience that is not available online.

“It’s an attempt to redress the balance between the salutory lack of experience you get through the internet – Altrincham Market is the antidote to that, it’s the counter balance to that.”

While admitting that the new market is still in a “very very early stage” of its rejuvenation, Johnson said that while he did not have any footfall statistics, the feedback from traders had been “incredibly positive”.

Bolton-born Johnson has been involved in regeneration for 25 years, first with his own company when he was heavily involved in the aftermath of the Manchester bomb and then as a director of Urban Splash, the urban regeneration company. While there he worked with Foster and Partners on the Budenberg HAUS Projekte development in Broadheath.

He was also chairman of Marketing Manchester for seven years before stepping down last year.

And while admitting he was “not that interested in the plight of brands”, he hopes the market rejuvenation will help to revive the independent sector in the town generally.

“The reason (vacant shops) aren’t filled is that there’s a sense that there isn’t opportunity here and it’s very difficult to change that perception in any way other than demonstrating that it does exist.

“You can do any number of marketing initiatives to encourage people to come to Altrincham, but unless they believe that there is opportunity here, they won’t.

“What we’ll be able to demonstrate in the next 12 months is that there is a real appetite for something that is high quality, distinctive, unique and driven by independents.”

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