Last Friday (26 November) I was invited by a team of policy officers from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to show them around my neighbourhood of Marple. It's something they do once a month in places they may not know so well in this conurbation of 2.5 million people. I got the impression they wanted to get a better sense of the place when they saw the name on policy documents.
Anyway, one of them said to me halfway around our tour that I'm obviously very passionate about my home. I never really thought of it like that, but I suppose I must be. It's been an amazing place to raise a family, we've seen steady change over the years, and though I do probably grumble a bit on here about traffic, trains, NIMBYs and scrotes, I actually really like it.
I invited a couple of local chums to join Rachel and me on the tour, not entirely randomly. Peter is involved in Our Marple Plan and the Friends of Marple Station group. Karen was involved in something called Marple Matters and is active in her kid's school. Like us, both of them have moved here and therefore have that incomers perspective. Some are born here, some are drawn here.
It all coincides with the window of opportunity for the Marple neighbourhood plan, which has been the product of a lot of hard work over the last few years. I was involved at the very start, but cleverer and more dedicated people than me have got it to this important stage.
There's nothing particularly special about the tour, but I hope the route I picked at least framed the identity of Marple for our guests.
We met the team off the train at Marple where Peter was able to talk through the proposals for a new entrance and an upgrade to the waiting room and station building on the northbound side. Explaining the transport logistics is pretty integral to the whole identity of Marple and starts to focus the mind on what the town is for, who uses it, and who lives here, and how wealth is generated in the community.
From there we hiked up Brabyn's Brow to Lockside Mill, where I used to have an office, showing off the canal and Memorial Park. Again, the view out towards Mellor and Ludworth Moor and the canal show just how different this place is to anywhere else they may visit in Greater Manchester. Rachel had the muscle memory of a teacher as she recounted the local history of the canals, and of the role of Samuel Oldknow. We had a stroll around the civic buildings in the park and I was a tad disappointed that the consultation boards about the new leisure centre, civic offices and library have been removed. I maintain it's a great opportunity to reconfigure that space and solve a number of problems at once. Between us, I think we had enough to summarise the issues and options.
Next, I simply had to point out a couple of unique local businesses. Britain's first provincial Cambodian restaurant, Kambuja, and our wonderful little one-screen cinema, The Regent. We waved at William Wragg MP's office and moved along to The Hollins.
One of the regular features of a daytime Marple experience is the group of elderly characters who sit outside Greggs. I'm on nodding terms with a few of them, and one was involved in UKIP and the Leave campaign, so I was actually keen to get their alternative view of life. Sadly, they weren't around.
Crossing over to Market Street we chatted to Daniel, the Big Issue vendor, before checking out the bustle of the main drag, stopping for a photo outside new bar Aggie's. I pointed out how the retail balance has changed in the time we've lived here. Some significant retail has gone, but the multiples hang on in there (Boots and Superdrug) all four of the big banks have gone, only one traditional pub remains, but new barbers shops, fishmongers and several independent bars and cafes have sprung up. It prompted an interesting discussion on the purpose and future of our local high street and the need for high-density housing balanced against the preservation of heritage assets, where there was a difference of opinion amongst the home team.
We then cut across to the derelict leisure centre, Marple's greatest current blight and in need of urgent attention and replacing.
Stockport Road, like Market Street, has been transformed of late and we stopped to welcome the couple who have just opened Lentils and Lather, Marple's newest shop and got their take on what attracted them to expand here. I hope that was a useful insight. From there it was a quick jaunt downhill to The Railway pub for a drink and some food before our guests caught a train back to work from Rose Hill, pointing out a few local characters and landmarks along the way.
All told, it was a real honour to host them. They were a super-smart group, as you'd expect from civil servants in Britain's most dynamic city region, and they all asked some very good questions and shrewd observations. It was light touch, informal, but hopefully useful. And yes, when I reflect on it, I am pretty proud of our town and more so for the passion of lovely people like Peter and Karen who want to make it even better.