Meet your Cheshire champions and our Keep Life Local award winners
PUBLISHED: 09:04 22 December 2020
Here are the Cheshire people supporting the county every day of every year
The Cheshire Life Keep Life Local Awards, launched last year to honour and promote Cheshire businesses during the pandemic and lockdowns, attracted an incredible 2,468 nominations.
Editor Joanne Goodwin says: ‘We were amazed and delighted at the response and are so pleased to have the opportunity to publicise the independents who keep the county economy going through good times and bad.
‘Our byword at Cheshire Life is ‘local’ and every business that was nominated deserves to have the people of the county walking through their doors, or ordering through their websites, and spending their money. Their stories of resilience and the ways in which they have supported their communities, customers and staff are fantastic. Here are the stories of our worthy winners.’
2020 Independent Cheshire Business: Rainbow88
It’s Linda Lam’s fancy fried rice that has brought the community together in Cheadle Hulme. Fancy – in Linda’s terms – meaning spicy chicken, onion, egg and spring onion fried rice paired with some prawn crackers and a homemade cake.
Bakers and delivery drivers were just two of the groups of volunteers to help Linda out through 2020, creating and delivering a food parcel to the vulnerable, to key workers, to charities and care homes, or to that special someone who deserved a thank you for going the extra mile.
It was the first lockdown that inspired Linda to do something that bit different. She could no longer cook at her Cheadle Hulme restaurant Rainbow88 due to coronavirus restrictions, so why not cook at home? ‘I got the whole community involved, and local shops, residents and even some of my customers donated ingredients,’ says Linda, who teamed up with Helping Hands Bramhall.
‘I cook everything in my own little kitchen, in my own little rice cooker and wok. People have donated new woks – and they’ve donated containers, takeaway bags and stickers to put on the top to let people know where it has come from. It stays “Stay safe” with a smiley face and a rainbow.
‘People wanted to get together and do something, it just needed someone like me to co-ordinate it. It’s about lifting people’s spirits.’
During the week, people nominate others for a meal through the Rainbow88 Facebook page, and at weekends, Linda cooks for key workers like the staff at Stepping Hill Hospital and The Christie.
What started off at maybe 100 meals a week, quickly became 50-60 meals seven days a week, and Linda calculates that since March, she’s cooked about 3,000 portions of her fancy fried rice – even with a two-month slow-down when Rainbow88 re-opened in the summer.
She’s always been a helper, a fundraiser... a community champion. In 15 years, Linda has raised more than £300,000 for local charities with her business partner Steven Liu, with £20,000 of that raised while she was going through breast cancer treatment three years ago.
During lockdown, she has raised around £2,000 for The Christie and £1,500 for breast cancer, selling raffle tickets at the restaurant, even while it was closed. It has now re-opened for takeaways, from Thursday through Sunday.
‘There were people who were really enjoying my meals and who wanted to buy them.’ she says. ‘I sold them at £5 a portion, with the money going towards St Ann’s Hospice and Chelwood Foodbank Plus.
‘It is just about finding ways. You would never think that a small gesture like that could brighten up someone’s day so much and lift their spirits. And that is the whole intention.’
Small Retail Business of the Year: Pulse of Perfumery
‘I’ll tell you what, if you were here the day we saw the award win come through on email – talk about the Cheshire Cat,’ says Peter Murray. ‘There was a smile on our faces that just lasted all day and all night. It is incredibly rewarding to know that people recognise what we do.’
Peter, along with fellow director Melanie Seddon and fragrance consultant Danielle Brotherton, were praised by nominators for their knowledge, passion – and that experience factor.
Their shop, Pulse of Perfumery (often referred to as POP), stands vibrant on Princess Street, Knutsford, where Peter has been most days throughout lockdown, picking up the phone to customers.
‘All businesses look at a 12-month period,’ Peter says. ‘You can cope with the weather – it’s raining so people don’t come out shopping – you can cope with roadworks outside the front of your shop... you cannot cope with when the government says you have to shut for three months, and then another month.
‘We have been shut for one-third of our annual business, and particularly the latter part of the year has been crucifying.’
Nominations for POP almost all say the same thing: POP lights up the town centre, the customer service is exceptional and it’s a real delight to shop there. ‘You are made to feel so special and welcome, and their product knowledge is top-notch,’ one happy customer says. ‘You are made to feel like you’re the only person in the room,’ says another.
That is important to Peter, who says the wonderful thing about POP – and part of what they do – is that even if it’s your first time coming into the shop (and irrelevant of if you are intending to buy or not), you get the exact same desire to return.
‘The experience we give to everybody – even the postmen love coming here – is upbeat, it is a communication, and that is the key,’ Peter says. ‘Communication, real passion and honesty.’
The POP website launch in October 2019 has been a godsend during the pandemic, with customers making the most of Peter’s time in the shop during lockdown. ‘We have never been a web-driven business,’ says Peter. ‘We traded for eight years communicating as a one-to-one, personal, friendly and loving business as a little shop.
‘It has been bizarre as people are phoning us up saying I’m online, can you just talk me through this? It is wonderful. They want the Melanie, the Danielle and the Peter – the POP magic if you like.’
POP celebrates 10 years in business in 2021, so it is going to be a very special year for them. ‘To win this award is a massive big-up to independence,’ says Peter.
Highly commended: Cheshire Quality, Knutsford
Tea/coffee Shop of the Year: WILD & WILD
WILD & WILD is a wonderfully healthy, plant-based coffeehouse and kitchen, dishing up delicious food and drink to the people of Congleton – but more than that, it is a community.
Owner Chris Wild and his team have put that to the forefront of this interesting year, adapting and diversifying their offering. ‘We’ve tried so hard this year to keep our service going and to be there for our community,’ Chris says. ‘We are grateful for that opportunity to try something new, otherwise we may have just continued as we were. There have been little blessings, although it has been tough.’
WILD & WILD turned to takeaways as their base offering, changing the menu to make it a more suitable, take-out style. They were never really set up to be a takeout, because what they sell is an experience. The coffeehouse is set up to be an experiential place where you come, you know your server is there and you get to know each other; it is a community-building space, an all-inclusive wellness space.
‘When you take the customers away from us, you take away pretty much everything we wanted to be as a business,’ Chris says. But they trooped on, moving online and allowing people to order out of hours for delivery the next day.
They personally packed and delivered locally sourced veg boxes to the community – the peak of which saw them dishing out to everywhere from Altrincham and Macclesfield to Crewe and Trentham, in North Staffordshire, and everywhere in between – along with Afternoon Tea graze boxes and brunch-style grazing boxes.
The team was also creating healthy lunches and dinners, pre-prepared and delivered to people’s houses as quick and easy meal prep to suit their needs.
But the big one was the One-box Solution, packed with day-to-day, plant-based essentials, launched the first day of the first lockdown in March. There was fruit, vegetables, pasta, rice, plant-milks, spreads... and a few little cakes and treats.
‘We had to cap them at 50 a day because we just couldn’t keep up with it,’ Chris says. ‘It was awesome. What was really lovely, was every house we’d go to, people were in and actually most of the time were waiting for you. They just wanted to talk to somebody because they hadn’t seen someone at some points for six, maybe seven weeks.
‘They’d open the door; we’d have a conversation and it was just a really nice connection with the community.’
Highly commended: RX Lounge, Crewe
Restaurant of the Year: Don Alberto
Claire Halluni and her husband Alberto have really made a difference through the pandemic, dishing out flavours of their gorgeous Italian food to key workers at Leighton Hospital.
It was a no-brainer for chef Alberto, who owns Don Alberto in Holmes Chapel. From the very moment we plunged into lockdown, he and co-chef Salvatori Suad fed the NHS frontline heroes every week for 15 weeks. ‘It was brilliant,’ says Claire. ‘He’s that kind of person, Alberto – no matter what kind of crisis he is in, he’ll always help someone.’
The restaurant provided about 420 homecooked lasagnes and 140 pizzas, delivered every Sunday to everywhere from Covid wards and the neonatal unit to critical care and children’s wards, while also continuing a takeaway service at Don Alberto for hungry customers.
They pride themselves on that family-friendly feeling, welcoming you like you are part of their own. Nominations for the award say it is a ‘fabulous gem of a restaurant’ and ‘the heart of Holmes Chapel’; ‘the true spirit of community’. The quality of food is ‘second to none’ says another, while a third adds: ‘When I’m out walking my dog, I always get a “Hello, how are you and the family?” When we visit, we are always made to feel like one of the family.’
‘Winning the award is overwhelming,’ Claire says. ‘When you are in such a bad time – and the whole world is in it – and you get this award, you just think “wow”. People still know we are there and recognise that we are doing something good. It is incredible; I can’t believe it, to be honest. It is just what we need.’
Highly commended: The Rasoi, Tarporley
Bar/pub of the Year: The White Horse Inn
The White Horse Inn owner Paula Richards may or may not have done a little dance around the kitchen when she heard the news they had won Cheshire Life’s Pub of the Year award.
Nominations say the village pub, which sits in the heart of Great Barrow, quickly became ‘a lifeline for the vulnerable’ and ‘the rock of the village’ through the launch of a village shop with everyday essentials.
‘It started in March to help people out because they couldn’t get hold of toilet rolls and pasta and all those mad things people were going crazy for in supermarkets,’ says Paula, who has turned her hand to village shopkeeper. ‘We don’t have a village shop here so I decided to go and get a few bits from our suppliers, and it has evolved into a proper little shop.’
The shop has been running since lockdown hit, and will continue to run until the village gets its own shop up and running, which is expected to be around Easter time. Paula sources meat from the local butchers, local and seasonal vegetables, and local eggs and cheeses.
‘The village folk love that,’ she says. ‘They can come in and have dinner or a few drinks and go and buy themselves a bottle of wine and a cheeseboard and take it home. Others do their weekly shop here.’
Locals and passers-by continue to be very appreciative, with one saying Paula ‘was very happy to go to great lengths to stock items that were requested, and often managed to provide things that were not available anywhere else’. ‘I can honestly say I have never known a business provide such a great service,’ they added.
The cosy, traditional pub is known for making everyone welcome, with delicious, home-cooked food using locally found produce. Its locals welcome new faces with warm chats and a happy smile.
‘The food is lovely pub grub,’ one happy customer says. Another mentions the Sunday roasts are a must-try, and: ‘The staff are welcoming and the community spirit seeps through the walls, helping to keep the village fed and watered through good times and bad.’
‘It is lovely to feel appreciated,’ Paula adds. ‘It has been a tough year for many of us, especially in hospitality, so it feels fabulous. We are absolutely made up.’
Highly commended: The Church Inn, Cheadle Hulme
Market of the Year: Warrington Market
For exactly one month, there was no market in Warrington at all. And before that, the market spent 1,092 days in a temporary home.
But the refreshed and revamped Warrington Market beat the odds when it opened its brand-new doors on July 6, 2020 – and although not the summer they thought they’d see, the high praise from Warrington locals has been flooding in.
‘It has got pretty good reviews from everybody from day one,’ market manager Andy Ward says. ‘It is a refreshing change from what was the market in Warrington previously – the one we closed down in 2017 was very much your traditional 1970s market with typical traders, the building was past its sell-by date; it was half empty.
‘The food court has been the anchor for this new market from day one. It brings in people who then go on to shop in the market, so everyone is happy.’
The market, in the heart of the new Time Square development, has been topping 25,000 visitors a week, 6,000 on a Saturday alone. On the first couple of Saturdays, they had a (socially distanced) queue which went a good 200 yards. It is home to more than 50 independent traders, selling everything from meat, fish, cheese and pies to jewellery, fabric, handbags, clothes to comics, musical instruments and shoe repairs.
One of the first people Andy spoke to, asking what they thought of it, said it was “just like Manchester”. ‘I think that’s a good thing,’ says Andy. ‘It goes to show that even in the worst situation possible, you can still make a success of something. It has been well-received because it is safe, it is new, it is refreshing and it is something that Warrington has never had.
‘You can expect great service, a great selection of traders that you won’t find anywhere else, and a choice of food that is second to none. Normally we have 12 different foods, so you can eat your way around the world, plus a couple of excellent bars, so subject to being allowed to mix and everything else due to the Covid restrictions, it’s a great place to come for an evening out.’
Highly commended: Altrincham Market, Altrincham
Community Initiative Award: Leave No One Behind in Lymm campaign
It has been a real team effort in the lovely village of Lymm, to rally round as a community and leave no one behind. Perfectly described by one of the dozens of nominators, the Leave No One Behind in Lymm campaign is a ‘fabulous initiative, dreamt up by a small group of people, brought together by a huge amount of people’.
The idea was to make sure everyone on every road in Lymm who might need help was supported by a volunteer – the aptly named street champions – to help with everyday tasks such as shopping or collecting medication.
The initial proposal came from resident Vasughi Sundramoorthy when she posted a message on the Love Lymm Locals Facebook group. Within hours she had set up the Leave No One Behind Facebook group and within seven days, more than 1,500 residents had joined. A meeting was arranged days before lockdown by a group who set up the plan to create a trusted support network.
Graham Gowland, who was one of the central members of the team, says: ‘Everyone has put so much into it and it is amazing to see how the whole community has pulled together.’
IDs for all volunteers were checked and every street that needed help was assigned a street champion, who became their point of call for a weekly welfare check, to do their chores, or even just for a friendly telephone call and some reassurance.
Funding from Lymm Ladies Circle, Lymm Roundtable and Lymm Parish Council helped produce leaflets, where street champions gave their phone numbers for their designated roads. There was a central helpline, usually manned by the parish council, which would direct queries to the relevant street champion or service, and a free meal box service, which at its peak fed 30 households a week.
‘We also set up a Sunday meal scheme to help around 60 elderly, isolated or vulnerable residents and this support is still ongoing,’ Graham says. ‘It was really two things: to make sure everybody who needed it got a hot meal at least once a week, and that it was a welfare check.’ A team of regular volunteers deliver the meals and have a chat with the recipients, many of whom have now become friends.
Lymm Radio was set up at the beginning of lockdown and has since turned into a full-scale community radio station for Lymm and South Warrington – with a weekly children’s show by Emma Openshaw.
Kirsty James has been key in the campaign on the admin side of things, Anna Leaver and Julia Stansfield have put a huge amount of work into the meal schemes (with both also volunteering as area/street champions) and Steve Williams is the man who created the website and communications.
‘As long as the pandemic continues in this format, Leave No One Behind in Lymm will continue,’ Graham says. ‘If people need help, we have people to help.’
Highly commended: Wichcard, Northwich
Large Retail Business of the Year: Godfrey C. Williams & Son
Godfrey C. Williams & Son has been a staple in the Sandbach community since 1875, and 2020 has been no different. The independent, family-run grocers is famous for its range of more than 250 cheeses, its home-roasted coffee and for stocking some of the finest food and drinks Cheshire producers have to offer.
A big change came as a result of the pandemic when the Williams team embarked on home deliveries, all while keeping business as usual in the shop, which has remained open.
‘Before March we only had one home delivery customer a week, and that was my gran,’ says fifth-generation Daniel Williams. ‘At the height of lockdown in March we had 210 home delivery customers. To go from none to all of that was quite astounding.’
The service was greatly received by locals far and wide, who said the grocers ‘went above and beyond to look after local residents’. Deliveries included items from the shop, but it was also about the different bits that people in the community valued, but that they couldn’t necessarily go out and get themselves. The team would buy requested items from other shops and deliver them free of charge.
‘We’d get people newspapers, books of stamps from the Post Office... we work with Steve Brooks, the local butcher to supply meat, and Gibsons’ Greengrocers for fresh fruit and veg,’ Daniel says.
‘We are very lucky in that Sandbach is a town full of great independent businesses, so we have all really been doing our part this year. Not only to help each other out but to help the community out. The award was a huge surprise and we are overjoyed to be recognised as one of those businesses at the forefront of trying to keep everyone going.’
Highly commended: Groobarb’s Wild Farm, Knutsford
Tourism and Hospitality Award: Combermere Abbey
Come rain or shine, through good times or bad, Combermere Abbey Estate has been there. The pandemic forced the mixed hospitality and events venue – ideal for a romantic countryside retreat and the perfect backdrop to say your ‘I do’s – to temporarily close its doors, but they didn’t let that stop them supporting local.
‘One of the things we realised at the very beginning was that the critical thing was to continue in some way or another to support local businesses,’ managing director Sarah Callander Beckett says. ‘Because they are, in a way, like us. They are smaller, they rely on local support, and in the wedding business especially, we have a lot of very small suppliers.
‘It has been a devastating year for everybody, but particularly in the wedding sector it has been awful.’
Sarah and her team decided to continue their social media and PR campaign to keep talking about what was going on locally – so that when they opened up again, they could push all of the local pubs and the companies that were offering take-outs to their visitors. They’d go out and take photographs of shops that were open, and post them on their social media pages.
It was very much a case of promoting what was available in the area, putting the word out that Cheshire was good to come back to, ‘that we were ready to go’.
Combermere re-opened its holiday cottages in July. ‘We made sure that everybody knew we had the right certifications,’ Sarah says. ‘We trained the staff so they felt comfortable, and we just pushed the fact that Cheshire is a very broad county and that north to south, east to west, there is a lot of variety. And so there was lots for people to do, but more importantly there were lots of local people to support.’
The secret rural escape became a voice for the community, giving out links to guests in their arrival information about what they could do locally. They got local vendors to produce pre-cooked meals for people, and promoted a lady who had diversified from wedding cakes to an English tea business, encouraging visitors to book in for a family celebration.
‘We want Cheshire to regain its vibrancy and its popularity as a holiday destination, which it has become,’ Sarah says. ‘We continue to push it out, to encourage people not to travel too far away. Come and spend a couple of days with us – we are very keen on dogs – and go home and feel refreshed.
‘We are simply giving people coming to stay with us the information to make a choice.’
Highly commended: Cafe Glaze, Sandbach