Is this the secret to High Street success?

By Danielle Hewson
Presenter, BBC Radio 5Live


The ongoing struggle of our High Streets is a familiar tale.

Slowing consumer spending, online competition and increasing costs means the number of empty shops has grown.

Some well-known brands such as Maplin and Toys R Us have disappeared altogether - leaving yet more holes.

Yet one town - Altrincham in Greater Manchester - has managed to stage a remarkable turnaround. Could it prove to be an example for other struggling towns across the UK?

In 2010, the town had one of the worst shop vacancy rates in the country.

Eight years on, the percentage of empty shops has been slashed from 30% to 9.7%.

What is its secret?

Most credit the ambitious regeneration of the town's old market, into a new leisure and eating-out venue for turning around the town's fortunes.

image captionNick Johnson says it worked with people to make the market attractive

Nick Johnson, director of market operations at Altrincham Market, took over the running of the town's market five years ago and turned it into a haven for middle class foodies.

The project has had a transformational impact on the town centre.

"I've spent a lifetime in property, changing other peoples places from Plymouth to Leeds and I realised the place that was most in need of change was the place in which I lived.

"Rather than use property we worked with people to make that change."

Even on a wet, windy autumn evening the market is pleasingly busy.

Customers are prepared to brave the weather to browse the stargazer lilies and truckles of cheese.

image captionJeremy Jackon sells cheese and butter at the market

Shopping here is an experience which is why traders like Jeremy Jackson were quick to come on board.

Mr Jackson, who sells cheese and butter from his Wintertarn Dairy, says the market is "tapping into people wanting something different, something better."

"You don't need a revolution you need to evolve things and see where it goes.

"I think we are in danger at the moment of becoming a monochrome society and you want characters and you want something different."

image captionThere are "no big knickers" at this market, says Abigail Hitchen Hilsley

Abigail Hitchen Hilsley sells handmade furniture and homewares at the market, but is currently manning the coffee stall: Market House Coffee.

She says every trader is carefully chosen with no "big knickers" and out-of-date crisps.

"That's good for everyone."

She says that the market is "always buzzing".

"You get lots of yummy mummies with their babies all out and about during the week and at night time it picks up and becomes really lively.

"Trade is really good for everyone, because it's such a good variety. No one does the same things."

image captionAltrincham market is busy despite the rain

The Altrincham blueprint is one that is being eyed by other towns and cities, though not all have been swayed.

Professor Cathy Parker, from Manchester Metropolitan University's business school, cautions that this kind of model "will work in some places but not everywhere".

"It's catering for a certain type of consumer and people with enough free time and disposable income."

There have been many projects aimed at turning around ailing High Streets.

Most agree success depends on delivering an experience that's worth leaving the comfort of our front rooms.

Altrincham's rapid turnaround shows one way of achieving this.

Related Topics

More on this story