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How Macclesfield transformed itself into a cultural hub

PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 April 2017

Macclesfield Town Hall

Macclesfield Town Hall


New festivals, expansion plans and dedicated writers. Macclesfield is a town that has it all, as Emma Mayoh discovered.

Jo Wise, project director for Macclesfield Regeneration and Councillor Ainsley ArnoldJo Wise, project director for Macclesfield Regeneration and Councillor Ainsley Arnold

It’s hard to believe it now, but there was once a time when Macclesfield was branded as the ‘least cultural borough in Britain’. The judgement handed down from the State of the Nation Report in 2005 was largely based on the town having no cinema, theatre or art gallery. It hurt.

Should the compilers of this study, the Local Futures Group, care to revisit this wonderful town again, though, they would be made to eat their words. Whether it was because of this branding or not, the Macclesfield community has undergone a renaissance. More than two decades on from the report – and with a cavalcade of hugely successful events including the Barnaby Festival – there is a confidence in the town. And it is the town’s culture boom that has been the driving force.

Jon Tilley plans to add to this. The former garden designer, who created many award-winning designs at the RHS shows at Tatton Park and Chelsea Flower Show, has spent the past two years masterminding a new event. The Macclesfield Garden Festival will take place at Christ Church Gardens from May 19th-21st. The 52-year-old came up with the idea when the hugely popular Barnaby Festival moved to being bi-annual.

During the three day event there will be a landscape and sculpture show featuring well known industry names including Michelle Castles, Andy McKeown, Kate Denton, Lindsay Waring and Olivia Ferrier. Award winning garden designers, including Clive Scott and Andy Walker have also been confirmed for the festival as well as palaeontologist Stu Pond who will create a Jurassic Garden. There will also be the Northwest Floral Art Awards, show gardens, a plants market and local businesses will take part in a planter and hanging baskets competition.

Joy WinklerJoy Winkler

‘The festival has been knocking around my brain for some time and when I heard Barnaby had become biannual there was a space to do something,’ said Jon, who ran Dragonfly Garden Design. ‘This is something that could really work well in the middle of the town. It will be something to bring the community together and brighten up the town centre.

‘We want to get as many people involved as possible. It will be fantastic to walk down Mill Street and Chestergate and see all these colourful planters. The festival is bringing together all of the town’s schools, community groups and businesses, to live up to our mission to celebrate gardens, design, art and nature.’

The festival, which is being sponsored by many local businesses, will also bring together several parts of the community through various projects. The town’s four high schools – Fallibroome Academy, Tytherington School, All Hallows Catholic College and Macclesfield Academy – will be decorating the front of Macclesfield Town Hall. The King’s School are creating a yarn tree that will be foliated by Macclesfield’s primary school children.

The opening ceremony for the project will be a ‘one at one to one’ Spring Wassail where the children will dress up as Mother Nature or The Green Man and for one minute at one minute to one o’clock, they will make as much noise as possible. This is to scare away the winter and welcome the summer. Reception class pupils from The King’s School will also be designing a garden for the show. It will feature an eight foot dinosaur, Spottysaurus, which they made together.

The Kings School pupils Heidi Naylor, Chace Ingoe, Jessica Hanley and Charlie Burrows with SpottysaurusThe Kings School pupils Heidi Naylor, Chace Ingoe, Jessica Hanley and Charlie Burrows with Spottysaurus

Caroline Johnson, admissions and marketing director at the school, said: ‘It took the children about a week to make Spottysaurus, as part of their work at school. When the opportunity arose for the dinosaur to be a part of the festival it was a very exciting thing for us.

‘We wanted to be able to support this fantastic event. Other pupils will be decorating the yarn tree and be involved in the Spring Wassail. We’re very much looking forward to it as a school.’

The Local Futures Group would also be pleased to discover plans are in the pipeline for a new cinema as part of a new £20million development from Ask Estates. The new project, which will be on the current Churchill Way car park, will also include several restaurants, a café, retails units and a public realm.

There is also an £11 million expansion and refurbishment of the Grosvenor Shopping Centre in Castle Street by Eskmuir Properties. This is one of several projects in the town designed to bring parts of the centre back into use as well as reviving some of its beautiful historic buildings.

Macclesfield Garden Festival; Peter Gibson, Leon Guyett, Jon Tilley and Tony WhartonMacclesfield Garden Festival; Peter Gibson, Leon Guyett, Jon Tilley and Tony Wharton

Around £50,000 has also been invested to improve the look of shop fronts in the town centre and new businesses, including artisan bakery, Flour Water Salt, have taken over some of Macclesfield’s unused buildings.

There has also already been work done to improve existing public spaces with lighting and art work as part of The Waters Project and there is a further £1 million to regenerate more public areas. The plans will help to further promote Macclesfield as a place worth visiting.

Councillor Arnold Ainsley, cabinet member for housing and planning said: ‘To secure developers who are going to create something good for Macclesfield is fantastic news. We will strive to improve the town centre and this scheme is one of a number of projects the council is pursuing to enhance the town centre.

‘Macclesfield has a buzz to it and I think you can feel it when you’re here. Improving what we’re doing here will make things even better. We want to improve the footfall in people coming to the town and we want more visitors to spend more time here. I’m confident we can do this.’

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