Saturday, 3 September 2011

Leigh - the town that major high street chains forgot

It was a grey September Saturday and a rare day off for Neil, now the footy season is upon us (he works at Kingbee records with two football fans, so he has to hold fort most Saturdays till the end of the season).  Neil being a dessert-a-holic, he insisted we visit Applewood Farm pub in Astley to work his way through their fabulous dessert menu.  I ordered a sherry trifle - light on the sherry, but heavy on the cream.  Neil ordered a slab of their finest toffee waffle cheesecake.  Mine was lovely and Neil's was fab - really one of the best places for desserts in terms of huge sizes, great taste and value for money.  As for their mains dishes, they are fine - they make an effort and the chips are cooked well, but their dessert menu is outstanding and they do cake-away too.  Next time we go, we are just sticking with the dessert menu.

Anyway, as I had a cold and didn't feel like treking far so I thought we should go to Leigh next to Astley.  I had checked online and they had lots of charity shops - that's all I knew of Leigh apart from Andy Burnham being the MP (amazing eyelashes btw).

I had been curious to find out why people from Leigh liked to differentiate themselves from Wigan (town full of nutters - see blog).   Maybe it was because they were classier than the Wiganers.  However on the drive it went from leafy, residential Astley into red terrace, ex-mining town Leigh and thought I may have to revise my opinion. 

After negotiating the mini roundabouts we realised Leigh wasn't going to be the most affluent of towns with it's endless fast food emporiums. Parking in Leigh is a bit of a bugger.  We went into the car park near the market / shopping centre and had to wait to get a parking space.  Then we were shocked, considering the down at heel nature of the town, we had to pay to park - I mean 50p for one hour!  We certainly weren't going spend anymore. 

So we wandered through the shopping centre - nothing exciting to report.  Lots of chav families and rough looking people.  As we wandered through to Bradshawgate, we passed the Bus station - a classic example of Greater Manchester Transport 80s style of bus station.  There was an indoor market selling lots of cheap stuff.  But there was something missing in this town - something shop related.  Apart from Chav style shops - Argos, mobile phone shops and cheap chains like BM bargains - there were no high street chains like Dorothy Perkins, WhSmiths or Burtons.  There were little clothes shops that looked like they had graduated from the Market to the cheap lets on Bradshawgate.   Although people were still well catered for - if you were a big lady there were a couple of plus sized shops too.  There are some towns out there wanting to keep things local from the big high street chains - in Leigh they have made that happen but not through choice.

The biggest surprise was the cafe culture - I was amazed about the number of cafes lurking on practically every street corner - there was even a Costa.  A takeaway van had gotten in on the act and had a number of tables and chairs under a large gazebo type structure packed full of customers.  There is an endless supply of tea, coffee and vimto in Leigh, along with all day breakfasts and vats of chips.  None of these cafes looked particularly healthy, but clearly Leigh residents liked to get out there to have a good gossip with their friends.

Charity shops - there were plenty.  The British Red Cross was off  Bradshawgate and was a neat spacious shop specialising in lots of wool based products.  There was a lovely sign from one of the ladies working there saying the books were in alphabetical order, however due to her lack of DIY skills they didn't have anyone to put together more bookcases.  So if you are from Leigh with DIY skills, please pop down and volunteer to put up some more bookcases so they can put the rest of the books out.  There was a YMCA, PDSA, Oxfam (not over priced for once, but didn't have vinyl records), British Heart Foundation, DEBRA and Wigan and Leigh Hospice.  I'm sure I must have missed one or two from the list.  Neil found it disappointing from his perspective as their was hardly any vinyl albums and singles, just CDs and cassettes.  The books for me were just main stream.  The dead old lady knick-knacks weren't exciting although they were in good condition.  Most shops you could get round without much trouble.  Although I did think there may have been a lack of stock available as it was a little too roomy in some of the shops.

So in less than an hour we made our way round Leigh.  There were kids high on caffeine based energy drinks, hard-worn working class men were eating pies in the street and frazzled families getting their kids ready for the start of the new school year.  I did work out that the Leigh accent was not the weird Wigan accent - maybe that is why they don't want to be classed as Wigan and there were no nutters either.

Leigh is definitely the town that the high street chains have left well alone - thankfully as it gives Leigh character.