On an overcast October afternoon, a steady stream of shoppers trundle along Prestwich's main shopping parade.

Flanked by rows of shops on either side, they stop and chat to friends and familiar faces.

For almost half a century, the Longfield Centre has been at the heart of Prestwich town centre.

Built in the early 1970s, it remains home to a proud community of mostly independent businesses.

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But while the sense of community is palpable, the shopping centre itself is tired and outdated. Its dingy walkways and austere appearance belie Prestwich's reputation as a thriving suburb.

Now plans are being drawn up to regenerate the ageing precinct.

Last week, Bury Council, who now own the Longfield Centre, entered into a joint venture with a property developer, which could see the centre demolished as soon as 2023.

Under the ambitious proposals, it would be replaced by housing, employment, retail and civic space.

Meanwhile, a Prestwich Community Hub building would contain a library, adult learning, civic facilities and other health-related services.

The entrance to the Longfield Centre in Prestwich

The council is drawing up a masterplan which it says could be made public as early as next year.

The M.E.N. recently went to speak to shoppers and business owners to find out what they want from any transformation.

Alex Wood is the owner of Woodpeckers Pet Store. His dad owns the card shop Percivals opposite - which faces stiff competition from Card Factory next door.

"It does need doing up," said Mr Wood.

"We've all got eyes. We can all see it's a bit outdated.

"The issue is we're in limbo - as far as we know they haven't put any plans forward.

Alex Wood is the owner of Woodpeckers Pet Store.

"I'm for all change. I love change, I think it's great, as long as they do it right.

"It's a positive step going forward but it's a nerve-racking moment for me as a business owner."

Mr Wood added that, at the moment, some of his customers struggle to find parking spaces at the Longfield Centre.

He claims half of the spaces on the free car park are being taken up by people visiting the nearby Covid testing centre.

Metrolink passengers parking up before boarding the tram into the city centre are also an issue, he adds.

The Longfield Centre has been at the heart of Prestwich for almost half a century

However, a Bury Council spokesperson said the car park had 'performed a vital role during Covid, and, being centrally located makes it easier for more people to use it'.

Julian Dearlove is the assistant manager of Village Greens, a community owned co-operative which has flourished since opening in the Longfield Centre seven years ago.

He puts the shop's success down to the influx of people moving to Prestwich from south Manchester in recent years.

The trend - accompanied by the arrival of string of popular bars and restaurants in recent years - has seen the suburb lazily dubbed 'the Didsbury of the north'.

But while the face of Prestwich may have changed, its main shopping precinct has not kept up.

It's no reflection on the shop owners themselves, many of whom pride themselves on the strong bond they have with the wider community.

"There's lots of people moving here and they're really pleased to find a shop like ours that stocks organic produce," said Mr Dearlove.

Julian Dearlove, assistant manager at Village Greens in Prestwich

He remains apprehensive about what the regeneration plans will mean for Village Greens.

"We're still a bit confused about what the new centre is going to be," said Mr Dearlove.

"We feel a bit in the dark with the council and with what's going to happen.

"We just hope we're all kept in the loop. All our jobs depend on our store.

"The local community don't want to see us go either. We do form a big part of the community here."

Mr Berry has lived in Prestwich for 50 years. He's been waiting for plans to breathe new life into the Longfield Centre for ten of those.

"I don't have much hope," he said. "Nobody seems to bother about Prestwich anymore.

"Years ago, when we first came here, this was a real community.

"It's been been going on for a very long time and we don't seem to be getting any further.

"There's too many empty shops now. It just needs to be made more inviting for people. It's going nowhere."

Despite its 'up-and coming' reputation, the people of Prestwich have grown used to false promises.

Plans to transform the town's main shopping area first surfaced more than a decade ago.

A £30m refurbishment, including a new health centre, was given the green light in 2009 but failed to materialise.

Is it any wonder, then, that many remain wary about the latest proposals?

Bury council leader Coun Eamonn O’Brien recently said he wanted to give confidence to Prestwich residents who in the past may have said ‘we’ve heard this before, is anything going to happen?’

A Prestwich regeneration office is being set up in the town centre where locals will be able to drop in and give their views on the proposals.

A council spokesperson said the Longfield Centre's tenants had also been 'written to and approached to discuss their future'.

It's still early days but many shoppers are ready for a change.

"It could be a lot better," said Sandra Whipday.

"There's more charity shops than anything. There's no clothes shops - you've got to go into Manchester for that."

Sandra Whipday

Many of Sandra's family and friends shop in the Longfield Centre - and she's friendly with many of the shop owners.

"It's a community," she said. "I always bump into people here."

But, despite the obvious affection she holds for it, she admits the centre has seen better days.

Sandra is most fond of the locally-owned shops - and wants to see them retained as part of the regeneration.

"I like Percivals," she said. "I'd rather go in there than Card Factory because it's a family business."

Bury Council announced the closure of the Longfield Suite earlier this year

After more than a decade of delays, there is good reason to be cautiously optimistic about the long-promised transformation of Prestwich town centre.

As well as the Longfield Centre, Bury council has also agreed to buy the Istanbul Restaurant in Bury New Road as part of its regeneration plans.

The Turkish restaurant could be knocked down to allow a central plaza to run between the high street and Metrolink stop.

The council also announced the permanent closure of The Longfield Suite, which sits within the centre, earlier this year. A replacement events and community space has been promised under the proposed regeneration.

While precise details of the project are still to be revealed, it seems change could finally be on the horizon.

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