If you follow Altrincham’s winding high street long enough, you’ll find yourself at a distinctive part of town - a green suburban oasis full of life, fairy lights and plenty of Christmas trees.
Since June, the ‘community-focussed, multifaceted public square’ in the form of the Not So Secret Garden on Stamford Square has quietly become a focal point for the community.
Providing a welcome addition to the town centre, the venture brings together good music, good vibes and good times back to Altrincham.
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For Christmas this year, the Secret Garden has been given a festive revamp as it turns into the Not So Secret Grotto - filled with heated domes, cosy blankets, fairy lights and spiced rum-infused apple cider punch.
Since June, the sustainable community hub has been a hive of activity with local musicians, businesses and residents coming together to enjoy themselves and that’s something that’s continuing this Christmas.
Created by Bruntwood Works, the concept space will host a series of children’s craft workshops, festive choirs and live bands, alongside a selection of Christmas foods and drinks.
Coffee caravan venture Stutter & Twitch is responsible for the ‘coffee, records, grooves’ on hand, while also serving up plenty of beers, ciders and wines from independent vendors.
Owner Ryan Hayes, who launched the coffee shop in 2019, says the Not So Secret Garden grew out of a chance to bring Altrincham together again through acknowledging its past and future.
“Where we are based was such an unused part of town,” he tells the Manchester Evening News.
“One of the things I love about being here is that people who have lived in Altrincham all of their lives have told us about their memories of this square.
“People have told us they would come here in the 60s and it was full of traders and kiosks.
“This area has lived many lives and it’s had its ups and downs. I think we just found it in a state where it was unused and unloved so it’s great to be part of bringing it back to life.”
Stutter & Twitch started as a record label, with Ryan playing in a band at the time and wanting to promote other local bands.
“I had my Fleetwood Mac moment where the band split up,” he explains.
“To kill some time, I wanted to release some bands with bands I really liked and had a couple of years of having fun, not making a lot of money and creating stages at music festivals.
“There the idea came to bring a hospitality offering and making this caravan - as soon as it was complete, lockdown came.
“We had these ambitious plans of travelling around music festivals but instead we found ourselves in the humble streets of Altrincham and we haven’t left since.”
He says the sense of community the Not So Secret venture brings is what has made him consider branching out for Christmas and trying something new.
Ryan explains: “We were here doing takeaway coffee for six months prior as just a caravan during deep dark lockdown number one.
“We found ourselves having a real good time being here and connecting to the very strong community of Altrincham.
“Once we realised how much we were enjoying ourselves, we started to put on a few gigs in the daytime and saw how well people responded to it.
“That’s how the Christmas idea came about - we just wanted to come up with a more ambitious way of bringing people back together.
“Having the Secret Grotto was just about conveying all that effort together.”
While the idea of the Not So Secret Garden appealed to most people, Ryan admits the venture faced some opposition from those not wanting to see change in the high street.
“I remember the first ever person to come to the Not So Secret Garden was this woman at 9am on our first day,” Ryan explains.
“We were playing James Brown, getting the coffee machine set up and I was getting ready to serve her and she just shouted out ‘this isn’t f****** Glastonbury’ and walked off.
“We faced a bit of a muted reception at first from some people - it was a change to what people knew.
“But, most of the people who were against the idea of it initially are now actually some of our best customers.”
Over Christmas, the venue will be host to a series of takeovers and events, featuring everything from children’s craft workshops to live gigs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Acts including swing band Dominic Halpin & The Honey B’s, Hannah Ashcroft and Kirk McElhinney will be performing at the Not So Secret Grotto over December, while a number of takeovers and events will also be held.
Bratwurst, sandwiches and mulled wine will also be on offer - because Christmas, of course.
This Sunday, the Not So Secret Grotto will also be the ‘final destination’ for Tim Burgess’ Vinyl Adventures event - celebrating local music with pop-up vinyl stores and live performances.
Ryan says he hopes that, going forward, the Not So Secret Garden will play an important role in the future of Altrincham.
“I think it plays into that idea that high streets need to be more adverse - there needs to be more of a theatrical experience for people to come out,” he explains.
“I feel like this is part of a big change to what high streets are and could be.
“There’s going to be a lot of rejuvenation and redevelopment to Altrincham soon and I’m very excited to see what happens next.
“It’s going to be really lively - there’s potential for more businesses, more apartments and more ideas that could really be what Altrincham needs and could make a fantastic change.”
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