Being the next big thing can be a curse as well as a blessing, so how do places like Monton maintain their identity as they become more popular, writes Paul Jones of Capital & Centric.
Dubbed the ‘new Didsbury’, Monton in Salford has surged in popularity in the last few years. With a busy high street full of independent eateries, bars and shops it appeals to people who want the café culture but perhaps somewhere a bit quieter. Whether you want a coffee, a meal or a couple of drinks it’s all on your doorstep. But if you fancy dancing the night away it’s dead easy to get into town.
You can see why it’s become a hit with young professionals that might be starting to think about kids and want everything that urban living offers but with the nurseries, parks and schools that the city centre can’t deliver.
Sure, its location certainly helps with its appeal. In commutable distance to Media City and the centre of town it’s unsurprisingly been a hit with people working at the BBC. It’s also got the Loopline – a disused railway line turned into over 7km of traffic-free walking and cycling routes – which starts in the village.
But its more than that. What Monton’s got, which so many other places fail to deliver, is a really strong community spirit. You can feel it when you walk down the high street on a Saturday. The business owners have been investing in new shop fronts while the community groups organise regular local events. This is a community with a sense of pride that works together.
So, what’s not to love? Well, popularity means price rises. Monton’s gone from being prime fodder for first time buyers to slightly out of reach for many looking to get on the property ladder. Inevitably that’s seeing the surrounding areas in Eccles get a bit of the action so it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Being the next big thing can be a curse as well as a blessing. There’s a danger that success attracts chain retailers and Monton loses its independent spirit. We need a wider range of interesting and independent businesses that can add to the daytime and nighttime offer. But they need to be the right kind of businesses that care about the village’s future – as owner occupiers are more inclined to do – and add to the village atmosphere and community spirit that makes it special.
We’re going to need a lot more Montons to deal with the demand for suburban living that’s coming down the track. As millennials start turning 40 this year, more and more will be looking for utopia – a house that’s affordable, with some outside space, in a location that’s commutable to work and where there’s plenty going on. There’s a huge opportunity for other Greater Manchester towns to become the places that young people aspire to live – and they could learn a lot from Monton. Creating that sense of community spirit isn’t something that’s easy to do but it’s what takes a place and makes it a home.