What can I say about Prestwich? To quote The Smiths: "So much to answer for". I've known this place for over 30 years and know way too much to condense it into a pithy blog post. I was brought up just over the border in Whitefield, but I went to primary school in Prestwich. We did most of our family shopping there and spent more than enough time delivering newspapers to the area during the mid 1980s.
So 30 plus years on, how does Prestwich fare? Actually I think it's better now than in the 1980s. Maybe it's because I'm older and it has more to offer an adult than a teenager.
Getting to Prestwich is really easy. If you are on the M60, get off at junction 17 and you are there. From Manchester city centre, take the A56 (Bury New Road) and drive about 5 miles, or just jump on the Metrolink in Manchester and get off at Prestwich. It's a real bonus that Prestwich is on the Metrolink line as it does provide easy access to other parts of Manchester.
Parking, on the other hand, can be tricky. Lots of people tend to gravitate towards the car park on Rectory Lane, but that can be quite awkward to park in at peak times without a disabled parking permit. There is also one next to Our Lady of Grace Church on Fairfax Road, but that tends to be busy with commuters. If you don't mind a short walk into Prestwich, Tesco car park is handy. I always park there if I need to go into Prestwich Village as it saves the hassle and time of trying to find a parking space.
Prestwich Village is pretty much spread out along the A56 / Bury New Road. There is a shopping precinct called the Longfield Centre. This is where you will find the majority of the cheap shops, the chemist, library and the Longfield Suite. From time to time, the fountain gets vandalised with washing up liquid which creates foam icebergs that flow across the random street art furniture. I know the council has had plans to redevelop the place for years and the precinct in my opinion is in need of demolishing as it doesn't really function as a cohesive space and it spoils what could be a really lovely place. However the locals are keen to retain the Longfield Suite which is a large function space above the precinct. It's the heart of community activities and on several occasions I sang here when I was in the school choir. The ideal scenario would be for the new development to have a function room space, but I think the redevelopment is a long way off with all the cuts by the Council.
Close to the Longfield Centre is a large block of private flats overlooking Fairfax Road. You really can't miss them as they are the largest structure in Prestwich. Again it’s another planning controversy, which I won't bore you with the details. However on the upside on the ground floor level there are a couple of restaurants, a Costa and a pub. I have to say whenever I go past there, the restaurants are always full of people. Panama Hatty's is part of a tiny restaurant chain and having been to the branch in Manchester, I would definitely try this one as I've always enjoyed the food.
On the main road is where you will find the independent shops. I wish some money could be spent on doing up the shop fronts along here as first impressions along this stretch of road aren't that great. However there are some little gems along here. One of my favourites is Ellie Magpie which does handmade gifts, craft courses and has a haberdashery. Array of Blossom is a tiny florists, which does lovely flowers and they are very helpful. My Dad was pleased to find a traditional hardware shop for all those bits and bobs you need for DIY, without having to make a special trip to B&Q and hike around the store for it. These places are fab and becoming quite rare on the high street. If you are looking for a bling-fantastic furniture shop then go no further than Nuvo Interiors. It's quite an experience to walk around and most things are either black, white or silver. Whilst it's not to my taste you can't fault the vision of the owners. There is even a secondhand record shop called Endless Music, although I've not managed to drag Neil in as it's like a bus man's holiday for him. It's so rare to find record shops in the suburbs these days.
Prestwich, whilst it has a Tesco and an Aldi for your general food needs, also has a Marks and Spencer's Simply Food mini supermarket. I always think having one of these is a sign of a middle class neighbourhood. Not quite as good as a Waitrose or a Booths, but still pretty good going.
One thing that brings me back to Prestwich on a regular basis, apart from the Dentist (The Bank Practice if you’re asking, they are very good and I've been with them over 20 years), is the charity shops. There are lots and you can find some half interesting stuff here. I have to mention Bury Hospice have opened up a new branch here and it does furniture. When I've been here I can't help but notice they do get some good donations and is definitely one to check out. Charity shops are not only a good source of books for me, but also great to eavesdrop on conversations. Not naming names, I heard a fabulously gossipy conversation in one where they were talking about a couple who had split up. Apparently the woman had been “acting like a prostitute” since the split by seeing different men. However the man was really down in the dumps about the split. I spent way too much time listening to them, but I'm a sucker for local gossip.
If you are a major fan of Coronation Street it's worth popping down to St Mary's Church on Church Lane. This place has baptised, married and buried most of Weatherfield over the years. It's a lovely church and worth a little wander.
You will also find along Church Lane, the Aumbry restaurant. There has been a food war in Manchester with high end restaurants vying to get the first Michelin star for the city. Believe it or not there has been a whole TV series about it. The Aumbry is one of the contenders for the Michelin star and I've heard good things about the place from friends. I really hope it gets the star rather than the bigger and flashier restaurants in Manchester.
There have been touches of gentrification going on in Prestwich, which have been inspired by Chorlton in south Manchester. There is a cafe bar called Cuckoo which would not look out of place in the trendier parts of Manchester. Also in the offing is Village Greens, a grocery cooperative, in the heart of Prestwich Village in what used to be Blockbuster Video shop. Last time I was in Prestwich, the shop hadn't opened yet. I'm sure they were inspired by the Unicorn in Chorlton. I think it's great that there are places like this coming to the suburbs as it adds diversity to the village. As long as Prestwich maintains a nice mix of traditional, independent and interesting, I think the place has a rosy future to look forward to.
There has been a depopulation of north Manchester to south Manchester over the decades, however I have always been a strong advocate for Prestwich where families are concerned. If you are looking for a nice suburb with good Catholic schools to bring up children, not far from the Manchester city centre and Media City, with good transport links and fairly reasonable house prices, you really can't go far wrong with Prestwich. Maybe I'm biased, but just looking at the education league tables alone says it all.
Prestwich, it has been a long time since I've spent my teenage years miserably wandering your streets with my Walkman on, listening to The Smiths and delivering the Manchester Evening News. Having lived across Manchester over the years, enough water has passed under the bridge for me to appreciate your leafy roads, nice houses and handy transport links. You have so much potential to become a nicer, classier and less pretentious cousin of Chorlton. Good luck, Prestwich - I think I may like you now!