Sunday, 30 March 2014

Rochdale, Greater Manchester

Although I’ve lived in Manchester for over 40 years Rochdale has been a bit of a mystery to me.  The first time I went it was just to Rochdale Infirmary as my Dad needed a spot of day surgery.  Otherwise Rochdale to me was the last town before Yorkshire.

The day we went wasn’t the best.  The weather was your stereotypical Manchester day – wet and grey. 
Getting to Rochdale is straightforward – M60 clockwise, straight onto M62 towards Yorkshire, exit junction 20 and follow the signs for Rochdale town centre.

We ended up parking in a little pay and display car park up a cobbled hill, somewhere behind the Town Hall.  The parking was cheap, but after we paid, a lady pointed out that parking was free.  We had missed the free parking sign completely as it had been obscured by a rubbish bin.
One thing to visit Rochdale for is the Grade 1 listed TownHall, which is a brilliant example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture.  It was designed by the same architect who built Manchester Town hall.  We weren’t too sure whether it was open to the public on a Saturday so we didn’t go in.  Having looked at pictures of the interior I would love to come again and see it in the flesh.  I bet this place is a popular wedding venue and given all the posh cars parked outside it on this Saturday I’m sure it was being used for that purpose that day.  A weird story I found out about the place was that Hitler liked the place so much, he had intended to take the town hall back to Germany brick by brick if Germany won the war.
In the town square there was an event going on with all the local community groups in a large tent promoting their services.  The fire service were there doing their community outreach. There was also a tiny stage too with a band singing about Rochdale in the drizzle.  It's good to see this sort of activity as it shows the community cares.
We wandered into the town centre and found a shopping centre with the Beales department store, a market and a main shopping street.  There were lots of unkempt, old style shops signs dotted across the town, which gave the place a scruffy appearance.  Bizarrely there was a bed shop which had speakers in the first floor window with a DJ in the shop window blasting out Northern Soul songs.  In between the songs there were announcements to buy beds.  As marketing promotions go this is definitely one of the most unusual I’ve seen.

As usual we checked out the charity shops.  Surprisingly there were lots of videos and cassettes being sold in these shops.  Although the shops weren’t overwhelmed with stock, which can only mean two things – they don’t get many donations or that the charity shops are very popular so they run low in stock.  That said the shops were clean and tidy so they were easy to browse.  Neil didn’t find any vinyl to buy though.
Rochdale wasn’t very busy that day, possibly due to the weather.  The majority of people were older people, some of which had hard lived in faces.  I swear some people looked older than they actually were.  We also noticed there was a prominent Asian community in the town.  I knew from my community radio days there was a big community as they have a Muslim radio station called Crescent Radio.
After this first visit I had the opportunity to go back to Rochdale.  This time the weather was much better and Rochdale does seem better with a bit of sunshine.  People in Broadfield Park were chatting and soaking up the sun.  This park overlooks the town centre and has a good view of the surrounding area. 
This time I also got to meet a few locals and I was really impressed by how friendly and proactive they were.  Yes - Rochdale has really struggled since the decline in the local industry and this has had a negative impact on people.  From speaking with people who know Rochdale, the place apparently has gone downhill over the past twenty years.  It’s hard not to notice the deprivation in the town, especially as it was the first time I’ve ever seen a food bank.  I really hope that the new tram line can bring the regeneration to Rochdale it sorely needs.  Regardless of all this the community spirit in Rochdale shines through and the desire to make a positive difference to the place is impressive.  It should be expected as Rochdale does have a tradition of social equality as it was the birth place of the cooperative movement. 
Rochdale does seem out of time from other northern towns I’ve visited and it has had more than its fair share of troubles. However, beauty can be found in this town through its town hall and, most importantly, its people.