High street shopping at Allestree, Littleover and Mickleover
- Credit: Ashley Franklin
Ashley Franklin completes his suburban stroll around some of the trading places in Allestree, Mickleover and Littleover.
The first part of our focus on Derby’s suburban trading places, all to the east of the city – Spondon, Ockbrook and Borrowash – revealed three centres which continue to proclaim their village status with pride. As one Spondon resident told me: ‘Call us a suburb and you sign your own death warrant.’
I think I am on safer ground in referring to the places west of Derby – Allestree, Littleover and Mickleover – as suburbs. All three were rural enclaves up to the turn of the 1960s. One Mickleover resident remembers it as a ‘real village’ as recently as the mid-1950s when it had a population of only 2,500 and a game of football on the road was halted twice a day to allow the cows to herd through. However, in the ’70s Mickleover became purportedly the largest suburb in Europe with a population of over 16,000. The Derby conurbation likewise embraced Allestree and Littleover.
In spite of this the old village centres are still in place, though trading places have sprouted elsewhere to cater for growing estates. Significantly, though, I still felt a sense of community in each of the shopping parades. This can be attributed in no small part to the traditional shop owners who have long served their customers with a warm smile and ebullient conversation. For example, Karen Davis of Allestree Pet Supplies told me that three decades of customer service has made the shop a social hub, adding ‘Our customers spend so much time in here that I reckon we could make a few extra bob serving tea and cakes.’
Furthermore, Allestree, Littleover and Mickleover are similar trading places to Spondon, Ockbrook and Borrowash in that businesses are, if not thriving, at least surviving. Walking around, I saw the kind of retail units that usefully help to bring customers to their high streets – butcher, baker (Birds Bakery is a hugely popular draw in all three), grocer, florist, pharmacy, optician, estate agent, bridal store, funeral director, café and charity shop. These are interspersed with the occasional independent store. A few more niche outlets – potential traders take note – and they would dispel all fears about the decline of the high street. Urban high street trade may be dwindling but in the suburbs there is a more optimistic outlook.
Starting in Allestree, there can be no better business to hold up as an example than The Little Shed, around the corner from the small shopping parade on the A6. Four years ago, Anney Grace was keen to open a gift shop in Allestree – ‘It’s such a friendly, family-orientated place,’ she told me – but couldn’t find suitable premises so her partner Nik built the Little Shed in their garden. Anney has seen ‘a dream come true’, stocking an array of classy gifts alongside a contemporary but cosy tea room that serves – according to various reviewers – ‘yummy cakes’, ‘savoury goodness’ and ‘divine caramel brownies’. It now also has a book club, workshops for flowers, calligraphy and painting, and the venue can be hired. ‘We now feel we are part of the community,’ says Anney.
Around the corner from The Little Shed and right on the A6, next to the Shell garage, Fireplace Supplies is perfectly placed to attract passing traffic. The showroom displays an ‘exhaustive’ range of stoves, fireplaces and gas and electric fires, and together, Jim and Roger offer 50 years of knowledge and expertise.
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Fireplace Supplies also has its own car park, a small but notable plus. Free parking is a huge plus if you shop at Allestree’s Park Farm Centre where there is space for well over 200 cars. What is distinctive about Park Farm is that it is, effectively, an out-of-town shopping experience – although, built in 1963, it predates the concept – that is conveniently nestled in the heart of the suburb. As Site Supervisor James Sullivan also points out: ‘It’s refreshingly different from out-of-town centres in having so many small, traditional shops.’
These include Nature’s Way, a health store run by Margarita Thomas who is a great advert for the business: she benefited so much from natural remedies that it inspired her to become an expert in nutrition. For over 17 years she has ‘successfully turned countless customers on to healthy living.’ Margarita also spoke for many of the retailers I met when she said: ‘The beauty of specialist shops is that we impart free, expert advice – much better than any online conversation.’
On the other hand, the delightful gift shop Little Mooch, run by Jen and Sarah, enjoys the best of both worlds by astutely augmenting the live shopping experience with online sales and a strong social media presence.
‘Some people think Park Farm is just for elderly shoppers but that’s not so,’ points out Jen. ‘One of the reasons we set up shop here was because there is a catchment of 60,000 shoppers within a ten-minute drive. This means there is a diverse shopping community so we sell gifts for all ages, which is why you’ll find brands from Katie Loxton and Ted Baker through to Rufus Rabbit and Jellycat.’
Other traders I met – Mick the butcher, Darren the grocer, Peter the shoe repairer/key cutter, Karen and Ken the pet shop owners – showed camaraderie built up with customers over the years through ‘hard work, personal service and cheerful banter,’ as Darren pointed out.
It’s not all cheer at Park Farm: the two long-established banks – TSB and Barclays – recently closed and seven of the 48 units are vacant. On the other hand: the Post Office has been refitted; the walkways of the parade welcome weekly traders like fishmonger Mark Steele and regular external traders such as Spondon Bakery and florist Catherine Payne; local schools, choirs, church groups and scouts perform at various times in the arcades; and exhibitions and notices appear in the windows of empty shops.
Site Supervisor James would love to see those empty units filled by an independent shoe shop, clothes store or coffee bar. As he explains: ‘I would encourage potential traders to embrace this homely and welcoming place. Park Farm was the biggest suburban shopping centre in Europe when it opened and it’s still going strong. That’s due to a loyal community who really want to see this centre succeed. Online trading hasn’t diminished places like this. You can just see how human contact makes this centre special. Park Farm has the perfect personal touch.’
Aside from Park Farm Centre and the community of shops beside the A6, Blenheim Parade includes the Deli, whose breakfast, one reviewer stated, has ‘the quality of a five-star hotel’. Diners and drinkers can also enjoy The Red Cow in the heart of Allestree village and – back to Park Farm – a new micropub called Pothole.
There are some attractive traditional pubs in Mickleover, including centuries-old Vine and Mason’s Arms. I was very taken by the warm, welcoming atmosphere of The Great Northern on Station Road, which also has three boutique rooms, and never fail to be taken aback by the unique splendour of the Hallmark Hotel Mickleover Court. As I walk in, my eyes behold the swish art deco lobby, a circular atrium of three balconied storeys wherein are housed 99 bedrooms – including nine classically-designed suites – a restaurant, boardrooms, banqueting suites (popular for weddings), and a leisure club with swimming pool, steam room, spa bath and gym. The hotel is also a boon to the local economy, employing 100 staff, 90 per cent of whom live within a five-mile radius.
You’ll find luxury bedrooms of all kinds in the showroom at Broadway on Station Road, which boasts of being ‘Derby’s leading bespoke fitted bedroom specialist’ with a noted line in bespoke wardrobes, too. Mickleover also houses Rowditch Furnishers, a family business of 42 years. It’s 43 years for another family business, Finewood Studios, a vast emporium of pine and oak furniture – much of it bespoke – alongside myriad home accessories and gifts.
The Alphabet Gift Shop is appropriately named as there is a veritable A to Z of gift ideas. Amidst their extraordinarily diverse range are desirable, quality brands such as Pilgrim and Reeves & Reeves jewellery, bags by Abbacino and Kate Loxton, Somerset toiletries, East of India gifts, soft toys and all kinds of personalised gifts. ‘We are a gift shop that is a cut above the average but affordable,’ states general manager Sue.
Since I last visited The Alphabet four years ago, it’s added the Uppercase Coffee Shop which has been a ‘roaring success’, attracting many local groups and families. ‘We know all our customers’ names,’ says Zara of the Culinary Team.
Also, on Uttoxeter Road, Paul and Liz Gilbert have just re-opened their refurbished café bistro Gilbert’s where their home-cooked food and ‘scrummy’ cakes are proving popular. Little Used, next door, has been open for 20 years and is still unique in the East Midlands as a shop for pre-loved children’s clothing, toys and books. ‘More people are buying pre-loved clothes because it’s considered more ethical,’ says Manager Margaret O’Connor, who long ago reached the happy stage where her sellers also became her buyers.
With such a large population, Mickleover could probably sustain even more shops so it’s significant to note that a new eight-unit shopping precinct is to open on derelict land on the corner of Uttoxeter Road and Limes Avenue.
As in Mickleover, most of Littleover’s shops are lined up along its main road and, similarly, I couldn’t see any empty units, indicating a supportive shopping community. Several shops are long-established, too, like Richard Petrie, celebrating 40 years of optometry care. Although Richard retired recently, the Petrie name lives on as a brand. As practice owner Davina Dosanjh explains: ‘Richard was at the forefront of progress in technology and service and we echo that with a high quality product and personal service. Being independent means we can offer something unique. We feel close to our patients and have a fantastic team of specialists who are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, interested and supportive.’
Another long-established presence is the florists Passion, a name that echoes owner Debbie Williams’ zeal for her business. Debbie’s experience explains why Littleover’s retail scene has remained buoyant. She tuned in to the mantra ‘surround yourself with chimney pots’ and also saw rich potential in the presence of a hospital, residential homes and schools.
Certainly education is big business in Littleover, with both Derby High and Derby Grammar Schools encouraging Littleover’s growth as a desirable place to live. Derby High, with pupils aged 3 to 18, embarks on a new journey from September by welcoming boys into Years 7 and 12.
Since her appointment as Derby High’s Headteacher last year, Amy Chapman has been keen to strengthen and maintain the school’s already excellent academic record: it was placed significantly ahead of all local schools in both A level and GCSEs in 2018. As she explains: ‘Our small class sizes enable each student to progress at their own speed, with the support and challenge of exceptionally well qualified teachers.’
Derby Grammar is Derbyshire’s leading independent day school for boys aged 4 to 18 and girls aged 16 to 18. Head Dr Ruth Norris looks to an ethos ‘very much centred on the individual,’ adding that the school’s ‘small family atmosphere, enables us to do this so effectively.’
The school’s academic performance puts it at, or very near, the top of Derbyshire’s league tables, while a wealth of extra-curricular activities enrich the curriculum and develop vital life skills. Their Sixth Form Centre has just opened and a new Infant School opens in September.
Next door to Derby Grammar is Nuffield Health Derby Hospital whose private, quality health care provision is made all the more attractive with a hospital that feels more like a hotel, with its quiet, relaxing environment. It’s a single floor building with ensuite facilities in all the patient rooms. Also, small is beautiful: as Julie Little, Head Oncology Nurse told me, ‘chemotherapy patients constantly see the same faces which gives great continuity.’ Nuffield is constantly developing, with a new, ‘ground-breaking’ laser eye surgery service, and a new Signa Voyager MRI scanner. As Outpatient Sister Katie Mason points out: ‘We are always looking to improve our services and surroundings so that patients feel comfortable and receive the highest standard of care possible.’
There are high standards of health and beauty care at Bliss which has been in Littleover for 15 years but had a new lease of life last spring by moving into a grand Victorian house where owner Zoë Broderick has created a bright, airy and elegant space. There is an extensive range of treatments, with free parking at the back and, as Zoë promises, ‘space to grow and develop.’
One of the pluses about an appealing business like Bliss is that, as Zoë points out, ‘we bring people into Littleover.’ The same is true of Homely Passions gift shop in the old village opposite the popular White Swan. Alison Woodings has attracted visitors from afar for her gift range which she describes as ‘more rustic, unusual and quirky than other gift shops.’ Business has been boosted since last summer with Alison opening the Tea Cosy next door.
Surprisingly, this is the only tearoom in Littleover, which says much about its potential as a shopping destination, according to long-time resident Chris Ward-Brown. His suggestions could equally apply to Allestree and Mickleover: ‘Many of us would love to see more independent businesses, like a deli or fashion house. We have two good restaurants in the Cantonese Zing Va and the Asian Red Chilli and now we have a new eatery in Brown’s, but there is still untapped demand. A coffee shop and micro-pub would bring more into the high street. Why not have a regular market in the old Market Square? Let’s face it, this is a relatively affluent area yet the facilities lack the quality Littleover both deserves and could sustain. It’s a very pleasant, sociable place to live but with a few improvements could be an even more attractive trading place.’