Creative folk in Wilmslow, Alderley Edge and Prestbury
We meet vibrant locals whose creativity and energy brings a little razzle dazzle to this lively corner of Cheshire. Words BY EMMA MAYOH PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON
The name Sue Jenkins is synonymous with acting. Her roles in Brookside and Coronation Street and numerous theatre appearances and directing roles have made her a household name.
So it seems fitting the actress should launch, with husband and actor David Fleeshman and daughter Emily, a drama school. They already run classes in Manchester but have recently started a new branch of The Actors’ Lab in Alderley Edge.
The classes, for young people and adults, feature advice from Sue and David and a wealth of big names. These have included the Library Theatre’s artistic director Chris Horner, actress Jennifer Hennessy, who appeared in The Office and The Red Riding Trilogy, and Coronation Street and Emmerdale actress Roberta Kerr.
The students take part in workshops and annual shows. Sue will produce a Midsummer Night’s Dream next year to be performed in North Wales.
Sue said: ‘I have thought about doing this for years but I only wanted to do it when I knew I could do it properly. We don’t have drama teachers we have actual working industry professionals taking the workshops. It is going amazingly well in Alderley Edge. This is a talented place. We have some great actors and love working with them. We are very hands on; I didn’t want it to be that no-one ever saw us. ’
The Actors’ Lab workshops are held at Castle Rock Studios, a new sound recording facility, set up by John Stretford and business partners Rick and Carolyn Nevinson. The studio, which can be used by budding groups or artists to top names in the industry, is located in the former home of the Rylands family. Its launch is the realisation of a seven-year dream for the 47-year-old. It opened just over two months ago.
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John used to manage the hospitality division of a sports agency as well as having his own events company working with artists including Stereophonics and Joss Stone.
There are also several groups encouraging talent in Wilmslow. Last August, Angus Macalister and Luke Gilfedder decided to skip university in favour of setting up their own theatre company, Finn Productions. There were people who doubted their decision. But the pair are having the last laugh.
The artistic directors have already put on several shows at Pownall Hall Theatre in Wilmslow, where Finn Productions is based, as well as at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre and the Stockport Garrick. They are giving theatre hopefuls much-needed experience and have attracted the attention of some big names. Nicholas Hytner, artistic director of the National Theatre, recently invited Luke to visit him in London to discuss their theatre company. They also have plans for another show in October.
Luke said: ‘Going to university was never really an option. I come from that very Irish working class background which means you can’t easily just pack your bags and hop on the next train - even if it is to a top university like University College London which I got into to study English.
‘I was the first from my family to get into university too, so I knew in turning it down I simply had to make this group a success. Nicholas Hytner called it “ballsy” and said he doesn’t know anyone who at our age started a full theatre group from scratch. No matter how high up you go people are a bit startled by what we are doing. It’s very flattering but also makes you feel a bit mad.’
Another group nurturing talent is Alderley and Wilmslow Musical Theatre Company. It was founded in 1947 with 12 members and was first set up at the Rex Theatre.
But two years ago the future of this group, formerly named Alderley and Wilmslow Operatic Society, looked very uncertain. Funds had dried up and there was no money to put on their annual show. They had to raise a minimum of �10,000 before they could commit to a show and �24,000 in total. But the members and community rallied. Next month they stage their first show for two years. Boogie Nights is at the Evans Theatre, from November 5 – 10.
Jane Schofield, committee member and fundraiser, said: ‘For the past two years we have all been working hard fundraising. We didn’t just want to disappear from the community.
‘It’s a great relief to be putting a show on and we will start fundraising for the next one soon. We now just need people to come and watch and enjoy the show.’
But the talent in Wilmslow, Alderley Edge and Prestbury is not just limited to the performing arts. Tucked away in Stoney Lane is the sworkshop of furniture designer Garry Olson. The Australian-born craftsmen, who initially trained as a teacher, has been making and designing furniture in Wilmslow for 28 years. He creates handcrafted items for the home using ash, oak, elm, yew and walnut. Some are collected by tree surgeonChris Frankland, based in Ashley.
Garry, who shares his workshop with designer Gareth Batowski, said: ‘I can get some interesting wood from Chris. I work with laburnum quite a lot which isn’t a commercial timber and it gives some lovely shapes.
‘I love being my own boss too and working with natural materials, it’s interesting and I love being creative.
Also celebrating success is Jo Davies, owner of Black White Denim in Wilmslow centre. The 45-year-old has spent two years investing time and money into making the boutique a success. Her efforts have paid off. She has garnered accolades from industry professionals and been included in Drapers Magazine’s Inspiring Top 100 List. She was named the sixth most inspiring independent UK fashion business, out of 100, by Pure London.
Last year, she made the business global by launching online.Jo has also recently been shortlisted alongside a retail director from Liberty’s London and the human resources director of Farm and Pet Place in the Leader of the Year category at the Specsavers Every Woman in Retail Awards. She is also one of only three nominees from the north west in the entire event.
She said: ‘It is a real honour to be ranked alongside some of the country’s major female business leaders who have inspired my own progression into retail and continue to do so to this day.’
Offering a taste of success in Prestbury is Sue Bray, who set up Cupcake Boutique in the old post office building just a few weeks ago. The 42-year-old, who runs the business with husband Richard, began making cakes as gifts. More and more people asked her to bake for parties and events.
Since then she has provided cakes for Kym Marsh’s wedding to Jamie Lomas and Nunsmere Hall as well as for the cast of the comedy show Mrs Brown’s Boys and the launch of Denise Welch and Gaynor Morgan’s new company. For the past two years she has longed to set up shop in Prestbury’s old Post Office and live in the village. Now, after extensive renovation, this dream has finally become a reality.
The former air stewardess said: ‘Things seem to be going really well and I just want to keep that up. We’re also really proud to bring this building back into use. I’m really excited about the future of the Cupcake Boutique.’