In an era of globalisation, Sandbach needs to look to its market to secure its future, writes Neal Allen-Burt of Sheppard Robson.
For the past 12 years the Cheshire market town of Sandbach has been home to me and my family.
I actually come from a long line of Cheshire farmers, but that way of life declined during my parent’s generation and I spent a more modern childhood growing up in the commuter town of Wilmslow before moving to Manchester to go to University, where I have worked ever since.
Despite the passage of time there is one constant which links Cheshire’s farming villages, commuter and market towns and the city: the railway. In particular the Crewe-Manchester railway line.
For nearly 200 years, the railways have been a defining force in the mobilisation of the masses, helping to define our urban landscapes and Sandbach, like many other settlements along its line, greatly benefited from the improved connection that it bought.
In 1837 in nearby Crewe, a station was built; one of the most historically significant. Its purpose was to link the four largest cities of England (sound familiar?) and in doing so it became the first long-distance railway in the world.
The opening of the Sandbach railway, five years later, came the chance to share in the prosperity of the nation. But it didn’t just open up the possibility of commercial gain, it also saw great philanthropic acts. Wealthy benefactors such as Rev John Armistead, a hugely energetic, progressive and socially active individual had a transformative effect on Sandbach, building churches, almshouses, schools, and critically, a market hall, many of which stand in the town today.
Leap forward to today and the prevalence of out-of-town and online retail, has led to a decline in Sandbach’s high streets, and with it, its market.
Gone are the days of philanthropists investing in civic infrastructure and a bustling marketplace. Instead, with a population four times what it was in the Industrial Revolution, we are left with an under-used town centre, an over-stretched rail network and markets that are no longer keeping pace with modern life.
If Crewe finally gets its HS2 station, then maybe the railway will again bring with it the prosperity of the past; but major infrastructure investment alone is not enough. Sandbach must capitalise on the growth of Crewe, but in doing so must also address the core of what has defined the town for the past 440 years, its market.
In a world of globalisation, local needs have become secondary. Our reliance on the convenience of online retail has decimated marketplaces of old, which have struggled to keep pace. But it is exactly why a marketplace is a ‘place’, located in and physically connected to a town, which makes them so important to their communities.
Monthly artisan markets are a positive start; but alone they are simply an attraction and they the traditional weekly market continues to decline. The successful market hall transformations of Altrincham, Stockport and the Mackie Mayor are exciting, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can they survive the in the longer term.
So how can this be done? We need investment, we need innovative thinking. We certainly need a vision. There’s one thing for certain; now more than ever, Sandbach needs its market.