Congleton is a town with the cutting edge

Rector, Jonathan Sharples, and some of his parshioners

Rector, Jonathan Sharples, and some of his parshioners - Credit: Archant

Get off my cloud, sang the Rolling Stones. But one of several Congleton firms embracing the very latest technology is encouraging businesses to get into their Cloud. WORDS BY MIKE SMITH PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON AND JOHN COCKS

Over the years, Congleton has shown a great capacity for reinvention. Back in the 1860s, when the removal of duties on imported silk dealt a fatal blow to the town’s thriving silk industry, many of the mills were converted into factories for fustian and velvet cutting and Berisfords began to build up a firm that gained an enviable reputation for the manufacture of ribbons, which continues to this day.

With the general decline in the British textile industry in the late twentieth century, Congleton had to reinvent itself yet again. As well becoming a centre for the manufacture of airbags and for Siemens’ electronic components, it is now a desirable residential area and a prime location for new businesses.

According to the town council’s website, ‘Congleton is not only a great place to live, but also to work; building on its manufacturing past, it now boasts innovative high-tech industries and cutting edge research and development companies, both big and small, as well as a strong service sector’. With no fewer than 900 VAT-registered companies in the borough, including a good number using cutting edge technology, this is no idle boast.

One of these cutting edge companies is NTTX Select, a new branch of NTTX, which has been successfully providing firms with engineering and management services for some years. The new division has close links with Microsoft and one of their team, Philip Moss, even helped Microsoft to develop their Windows 8 system.

Philip describes himself as an ‘unusual, user-friendly computer geek’, but when I met managing director Ian Dear and business development director Pete Thomas, I realised immediately that they are determined not to use the language of geeks. They recently held a seminar for local businesses, where they explained in plain English how firms can save time and money by using the latest Cloud technology, which involves remote storage of data on a secure system.

The Rolling Stones sang ‘Get Off of my Cloud’, but Ian and Pete have a very different message; they are encouraging businesses to get onto their Cloud and they promise to ‘hold the hands of their clients every step of the way’ and to provide software to meet individual needs, together with up-dates and maintenance.

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Another local firm, CMJ Fabrications, is using cutting edge technology in the unlikeliest of settings. They have secured the contract to laser-cut names into a new 40-metre-long ‘People’s Walkway’ at the ancient Grade I* listed church in the beautiful village of Astbury, two miles from Congleton.

Knowing that funds were urgently needed to renovate and secure the unstable perimeter wall of the churchyard and that access to the church up a step flight of ancient steps had become difficult, rector Jonathan Sharples had a ‘Eureka moment’ when he visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and stepped onto a metal walkway covered with names that had been laser-cut into it.

He said: ‘I realised that we could raise money for the renovation of the wall and solve the access problem at the same time by asking people to pay £30 for the inclusion of their name on a new steel walkway, which will not spoil the iconic view of the church from the village because it will be tucked around the renovated wall on the south side and will lead people up a gentle gradient from the car park to the church.’

Jonathan is inviting anyone who has a special link with Astbury or love of the place to contribute their name or to ask for the inclusion of the names of people they wish to be remembered. His wife Ella, who is Associate Priest, said: ‘The names on the walkway will give a snapshot of society at this time and will form a feature that will last for generations.’

Many of the contributors to the walkway are likely to come from Congleton because Astbury church was the main Anglican place of worship for the town for many years. Some will be members of families with local connections going back many generations, but others will be incomers to a town which has now been billed by Team Congleton as ‘Congleton Beartown where friends are made’.

One member of that team is Jackie MacArthur, who is Town Centre Manager and Marketing Manager. She moved to Congleton in 2003, when her husband got a job in Manchester, because she ‘wanted to live in a market town with great schools, a friendly atmosphere and good transport links’.

Jackie is responsible for ‘Bear Necessities’, a quarterly publication giving news of local events, which she is working hard to foster. She recently latched onto a suggestion from Cathy Morris of Clarity’s Hairdressers for the creation of an ice rink in the car park of the Bull’s Head and, along with many other events, she is helping to promote the Teddy Bears’ Picnic, to be held in Congleton Park in June, and a new arts festival to be launched in September.

A well-established annual event is the Food and Drink Festival. It was the successful marketing of her homemade marmalades at the festival four years ago that gave ex-medical student Laura Campbell the confidence to set up Purple Laura, a home-based venture to produce marmalades, chutneys, jams and cakes.

Laura told me: ’I use local fruit and vegetables, including excess produce given to me by neighbours or from my own garden, and I follow the example of my gran by preparing my preserves in the old-fashioned way. The profile of Purple Laura has been given a massive boost by my winning silver medals on three successive years at the Word’s Original Marmalade Awards, held at Dalemain in Cumbria.’

The factories that housed Congleton’s silk-throwing industry largely killed off old cottage industries but home-working has seen a huge revival in recent years. Laura’s home-based business is decidedly low-tech but, thanks to the magic of the computer, many people who work in high-tech businesses can easily work from home. It would seem that history has come full circle.

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