Sunday 17 May 2015

Cheetham Hill, Manchester - 2015 Update

A long time ago when I first started this blog, I did an entry about growing up the 1970s in Cheetham Hill. Whilst I regularly pass through Cheetham Hill in the car, I thought it was about time I actually stopped off and had a wander round.

Cheetham Hill is the first suburb you hit when driving north out of Manchester city centre.  It has always been a multicultural area due to its close proximity to Victoria Station, where all the Liverpool trains came when it was an international port and before air travel was the norm.  Anyway it remains a very multicultural place and is apparently the most diverse stretch of road in the UK. 

We parked up by the Worldwide Food Store just behind Cheetham Hill Road, by Crescent Road.  It was free which is always good.  There is also a nearby Tesco, which is also good for parking.
It was a bright Saturday afternoon and we were surprised at how quiet it was.  Then I realised we were at the north end of Cheetham Hill, which is close to the Jewish area and obviously Saturday is their Sabbath.  Further down the road towards the centre of Cheetham Hill it was busier as that’s where most of the Asian shops are.  Every day of the week it’s a nightmare to drive through that part of Cheetham Hill as it’s always busy and there is often double parking going on.

So has Cheetham Hill changed much over the years?  Yes and no.  Architecturally nothing much has changed, apart from the precinct being rebuilt and a few new buildings have popped up too.  Further outside of the centre of the shopping area new housing has been built and Manchester Fort Retail Park has been developed on the border of Cheetham Hill and Manchester, which I think has taken some trade out of the original shopping area. OK, so the shop signs have changed, many in garish colours jostling for attention – although my favourite was the spray painted one. The Council have spent much regeneration money on doing up the pavements and street lamps.  However it has always been a rough and ready type of place.  It has always been full of independent shops that span the globe – the only difference between the 1970s and now is that more countries are represented.  Cheetham Hill remains a fundamentally down to earth place where people are trying to earn a bit of cash to keep their heads above water.

Whilst the main road is full of independent shops catering for a multitude of cultures, we visited the new precinct.  I remember Lindy Lou’s children’s clothes shop and the stationery shop where we had bought the nativity set for Christmas in the 1970s.  All of this has gone in the rebuild and the place is unrecognisable.  Weirdly, in comparison to Cheetham Hill Road, there are quite a few empty shops here.  Maybe the rent is too high and Manchester Fort is more appealing to retailers with all the parking.

It was sad to see the old library, which had always been a landmark in Cheetham Hill, was boarded up and for sale.  When I looked through the broken windows I realised the roof was coming in too.  It’s probably a listed building and whoever owns it is waiting for it to fall down so they can build new shops on the site.  Opposite to the library the Robin Hood pub was boarded up too.  When I spoke to a friend and my Dad, they both confirmed this was always a scary pub and no matter what the owners did to it to go upmarket, it always attracted the local nutters.
Speaking of nutters, there were some rather scary looking people hovering around Cheetham Hill.  It has a history of drugs and gangs, and you can see on some people’s faces they have lived hard lives here.  I was surprised to find one guy sporting a permed mullet, which gave me flashbacks to the 1980s when that haircut was the fashion for footballers.

We did go the local charity shops and to be honest there wasn’t much to find.  I think they are very busy throughout the week with the locals and doing a fine social service.  In one charity shop a couple of ladies were debating whether to go to Heaton Park up the road for a fair.  An honourable mention has to go to British Heart Foundation, which took over the local Woolworths to become one of its furniture outlets.  It was jammed full of some good pieces of furniture and electrical items and typical of Cheetham Hill’s multicultural past it had an old Russian typewriter for sale complete with Cyrillic alphabet.
In all honesty I never get nostalgic for Cheetham Hill as a place, only the people that used to live there.  Cheetham Hill does what it has always done, which is provide cheap homes for people who have just arrived in this country - often providing a relatively safe haven for people who have experienced unimaginable circumstances in their home countries.  It is a melting pot of countries, people and colours – a bit crazy, a bit full-on, but for many it’s a place they can call home.