The rebirth of The Old Parsonage in Didsbury
PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 February 2014
One of the oldest buildings in Didsbury has become one of the newest community spaces, as Paul Mackenzie reports
The jewel in Didsbury’s crown has been given back its lustre in recent years but it is hoped that a new appeal will help the Old Parsonage to gleam even more brightly. The building, which stands in the historic centre of Didsbury is one of the oldest houses in the village and was home to Fletcher Moss, alderman, author and local historian who left it the people of Manchester on his death almost 100 years ago.
For many years it housed an art gallery but the paintings were taken down in the 1980s after which the building was used as offices, latterly for the local council and when they moved out it looked as though the doors might be closed for good.
‘It was looking rather sad and neglected,’ said Didsbury Civic Society chairman Steve Parle. ‘We thought it was a fantastic building and would make a wonderful community space.’
With support from the council and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the society launched a fundraising appeal to find the £160,000 needed to make the building useable again.
‘The response from local people showed that they wanted it to come alive again and it is now the base for the civic society and four businesses who are compatible with the aims of the trust, while the rooms downstairs are used for exhibitions and by all manner of community groups. The Old Parsonage has come to feel a part of the community in a very short time.’
But although the building is now abuzz with activity, work has not been completed on renovating it. The latest appeal is aiming to raise money to restore stained glass windows and Steve added: ‘We don’t raise money for the running of the building, it is self-financing, but we do need to raise funds for specific projects.
‘We will need about £4000 to reinstate three windows which photographs in Fletcher Moss’s books show used to be more ornate than they are today. Now we are in the building we feel it is our duty to conserve it, preserve it and improve it and replacing these widows will do that.
‘There is stained glass in these windows now but the pictures show that these are not the originals but we don’t know what happened to those.’
The civic society was formed in the 1960s in response to a proposal to demolish about 400 traditional terrace houses in the village. The society worked with residents’ associations to overturn that plan and Steve said: ‘The houses were saved and I think that saved Didsbury but we are constantly under pressure from developers.
‘There are a lot of green spaces and large houses here which are attractive propositions for developers and what we want to ensure is that the best of Didsbury’s heritage is preserved and that what is built is of sufficient quality.
‘There is an incredible mix here, with some buildings dating back to the 17th century and others that are very modern. We have very good transport links, with rail and tram, the motorway very nearby and the airport just ten minutes away and yet it is a very rural place with lots of parks and green spaces. What’s not to love?’
The road to Didsbury
Where it is: Didsbury stands around the A5145, just north of junction one of the M60. Type M20 2RR into your sat nav to find the town centre. There’s now a regular tram service and trains run from East Didsbury to Crewe and Manchester Piccadilly.
Where to park: There are car parks around Didsbury and some free on-street parking is available.
Where to eat: Take your pick of the wealth of cafes, delis and restaurants, serving just about any cuisine you might be in the mood for. I particularly like Saints and Scholars on Wilmslow Road and The Cheese Hamlet, a few doors down.
Drink to Didsbury
It might seem a long way off and you may only just have recovered from last year’s event but planning is already underway for the 2014 Didsbury Beer Festival. Since it began in 2008 the event has become one of the highlights of a packed calendar of community events taking place around the town.
The celebration of real ale, which is held at St Catherine’s Social Club in the autumn, was the brainchild of Jeff Seneviratne and Phil Saunders, who said: ‘We always have a lot of local beers on offer and the event has grown every year. We had about 5,000 people at the festival last year over the three days.’
And Jeff’s wife Teresa added: ‘It’s not like a lot of other beer festivals, there’s a very relaxed atmosphere and we have many people who come to this festival who have never been to a beer festival before.’