If you head out of Manchester eastward from Piccadilly on the tram, you pass through areas that have become synonymous with the recent redevelopment of post-industrial Manchester. However, past the proliferation of apartments in New Islington, the Ethiad Campus and Velopark, one soon enters a Manchester that will seem more familar to those who have lived here since before the last two decades of development.
The line ends in Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside’s largest town. Even when you proceed towards the town centre and pass the new Tameside College campus opened in 2018, and the Clarendon Sixth Form College building from 2015, you may think the affluence has already drifted eastwards from Ancoats and its neighbours towards Ashton town itself.
Sadly though, beyond these modern buildings, it is clear that ‘levelling up‘ has yet to reach this former industrial town. The market square looked empty with stalls mostly vacant on the Wednesday afternoon of my visit, although a revamp of the area is on the cards for next year. The town hall adjacent to the square, surrounded by fencing, is facing even greater challenges.
Tony Hamer, 75, has lived and volunteered in Ashton for twenty years and helps run Making a Difference Tameside, a life and skills centre on Stamford Street in the centre of town.
“Ashton has become less vibrant over the years, this street is nearly dead now”.
Tony, originally from Salford and a builder by trade, helped to work on some of the buildings in the regenerated Ancoats area, and he blames the decline of Ashton on high rents for the struggling retail sector, a lack of customer parking and a disparity of investment compared with those areas closer to the city centre.
“There are no major employers here anymore since the jam works closed in Droylsden, the young people are leaving for the city centre, there’s no night life”.
Tony hopes that, with the abundance of historic buildings in the centre, some development will happen, particularly with the improved connection of the Metrolink, but feels that town centre regeneration of the shopping areas is also required.
If that development does arrive, let’s hope that some of the spirit and history of the area is also accommodated with any modernisation and change.
Sign up to The Meteor mailing list – click here
The Meteor is a media co-operative on a mission to democratise the media in Manchester. To find out more – click here
All images: Gary Roberts