Is Stretford set to be the next Big Thing?

Could it be the new Didsbury? The new Ancoats? Or just the same old Stretford?

In the interests of fair play and to give you an idea of just how I know all of this stuff – I should tell you – I live in Stretford.

Granted, my peasant ways (and overspending on Buckfast) mean that I only rent a gaff down there, but nevertheless I’d certainly say I’m part of the Stretford ‘crew’ by now.

In my daily dealings at home and in the Manchester’s Finest office I’ve noticed that over the last 4 months or so there have been some considerable developments in Stretford, an area which I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t mind me saying has felt a little ‘forgotten’ in many a recent year.

Not too far from Chorlton, Stretford has suffered over the years from a serious lack of investment in the area that has seen many a pub, shop and house embrace the iron shutters.

Well, it seems that times are a-changing, as a few local community initiatives have popped up, alongside a swanky new FoodHall courtesy of the gang behind Ancoats General Store, and just last week a brand-new bar opened up offering more than just the usual selection of fizzy lagers.

Featuring an impressively stocked supermarket, bar and street food space, the new Stretford FoodHall in the Mall has made a huge impact in a short space of time, offering a take on the rather popular ‘Market Hall’ experience that has done so well for Altrincham.

The concept is different though (and in my eyes much better). There’s the supermarket bit which is pretty much one of the coolest shops you’ll ever set foot in, with their collection of weird and wonderful foodstuffs and home ‘things’ (what do you call all of that!?) from all over the world and closer to home.

There’s a belting booze selection, some fantastic vegetarian and vegan options, as well as one of them wine taps where you buy a bottle and you can refill it at your leisure every time you go in. There’s also a lot of things that are sustainable, green and help the environment, which will put a smile on most people’s faces nowadays.

I also had some of the best cheese I’ve ever had from here the other week. I ate it too fast to remember what it was called though. Sorry.

It’s the food hall bit that to me is the most interesting though. Front and centre are 3 open kitchens, available to any Street Food vendor who wants them – with the line-up of what’s available changing more frequently than I change my underpants (about once a week).

Since opening they’ve welcomed veterans such as Blue Caribou, The Ottö-Men and Koffee Pot alongside a whole host of new and up-and-coming concepts, including the brilliant Bootle Oyster Vegan Chippy who served me a great plate of Chips, Cheese & Gravy the other week.

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The concept is different to what you’d expect from Alty Market or The Produce Hall because the food is always changing and they’re giving small independents the chance to hone their skills whilst learning a thing or two from people who’ve been doing it longer. It’s like a GRUB/Hatch hybrid but indoors – and it’s brilliant.

As a result, Stretford now has people flocking to the area just to check out the FoodHall, so does this mean that more places are going to pop up? Does this mean that the area is now set to become gentrified? Does it mean that house prices are going to rise and it’s going to be too expensive to live there?

There are a few things happening that may help answer some of those burning questions. First of all, last week saw the opening of a brand-new bar just a couple of doors down from the FoodHall – The Longford Tap.

I popped in there with a lovely lady and had a pint and although it’s not the most innovative bar in the world, they did have some cracking beers on tap and a great bit of outside seating that would be perfect in the Summer.

Apart from the always impressive Sip Club down the road, a place that has weathered all of this change like a trooper, The Longford Tap is certainly a new kind of boozer in Stretford, a shift away from the traditional pubs in the area (like the now empty Robin Hood) and to a more family-friendly, craft beer and ale kind of place. Somewhere you’re more likely to find in that there Chorlton or Didsbury.

Recent times have also seen a group of dedicated locals offer up something a bit different, with a range of events, parties and pop-ups around the Mall area.

The team at the Stretford Essoldo have been organising events since the turn of the year, including an Immersive Cinema in the Mall car park and most recently a Cider Festival – alongside more regular monthly food and makers markets.

So there’s a lot already going on, and I think it’s a given that the next couple of years will see more and more new openings and happenings in Stretford.

There is one thing that looms over it all though, and I’ve mentioned it a few times already, the STRETFORD MALL….

At the moment it’s basically a tatty shell of a building, containing more empty units than occupied, and the ones which are full are a little bit rubbish if I’m being honest. Not all of them of course, but there’s very little reason for people to go in there at the moment – so if the people who own the Mall are reading this – I have a proposal.

The one thing that sets areas like Altrincham, Didsbury and Chorlton aside from others (including the city centre) is the high concentration of local, independent businesses – many of them offering something new, exciting or innovative that you won’t find on your typical high street.

Well, why not make Stretford Mall available to ONLY independent operators? With it being indoors and with ample parking, there’s an opportunity to create Manchester’s only Independent Indoor Shopping Centre – offering local food vendors, vintage shops, makers markets, hairdressers, proper butchers and the like – all independent and all under one roof.

So how will this all affect Stretford as a whole?

Will my rent increase? Will house prices go up? Will people moan continuously about gentrification and hipsters? Only time will tell.

One thing to note though – house prices haven’t risen at all in the area in the last year – so if you’re looking to buy – Stretford may just be the place.

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