Plans underway for the inaugural Hearts of Northwich event

The Penny Black in Witton Street

The Penny Black in Witton Street - Credit: Archant

The final preparations are being made for a festival celebrating community groups around Northwich, as Paul Mackenzie reports

Hearts of Northwich community festival organisers, Angela and Gordon Atkinson with Vicar, Revd. Alis

Hearts of Northwich community festival organisers, Angela and Gordon Atkinson with Vicar, Revd. Alison Harris, at St. Helens Church - Credit: Archant

The delightful market town of Northwich is a regular in the Sunday Times list of the best places to live and it’s easy to see why. A quick straw poll on the town centre streets showed that residents love the place – among the responses we were given when we asked people to describe the town in a word were: ‘lovely’, ‘charming’, ‘great’ and ‘ooh, I don’t know, it’s just nice, isn’t it?’

The annual Sunday Times roster uses quantifiable data such as crime rates, house prices and school performance. And while our approach was admittedly rather less scientific – we made a rough note of how many people seemed cheery and stopped to chat – it reached the same conclusion.

There were the occasional grumbles – too few shops and a shortage of entertainment were each mentioned to us than once – but those concerns are being addressed by the Barons Quay development which carries an £80m price tag and will bring more shops, restaurants and jobs to the town centre, along with an Odeon cinema. The first phase is expected to open in late 2016.

But it’s not just the shops, schools and transport links that make Northwich so popular, it’s the people too. People like Gordon and Angela Atkinson.

Northwich St. Helens Church

Northwich St. Helens Church - Credit: Archant

Although they’re originally from North Yorkshire, the couple have lived in Northwich since the early 1990s and have been heavily involved in all manner of community activities since then. When Gordon was made redundant from his career in the pharmaceutical industry he started work in adult health and social care for Cheshire West and Chester Council. ‘That gave me an insight into the many community groups and support organisations there are,’ Gordon said.

The couple, who also run a charity called Under the Mango Tree which supports a school in Kenya, are now busy finalising an event to be held in the town in February which will celebrate these community groups and make more people aware of their work.

‘My wife and I were invited to an event at a tiny Methodist church in Silverdale in Lancashire in February,’ Gordon said. ‘It was called Hearts of Silverdale and the church was full with lots of displays by people, organisations and shops from the village. We thought it was really quite marvellous.

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‘As we were driving back we were talking about holding something similar in Northwich and by the time we were home it seemed like a really good idea. Northwich is a much bigger town than Silverdale and we thought we would focus on the many organisations around the town who do such good work but who are not all well known. We thought it would be a good opportunity for them to come together and share what they do with the community.’

River Weaver

River Weaver - Credit: Archant

Gordon and Angela are now part of a small organising committee for the inaugural Hearts of Northwich event which will be held at St Helen’s Church on February 14 and 15 where they hope 30 community groups will showcase their work.

‘Many groups in the town do lots of caring work and provide lots of services – small groups as well as the bigger charities – and make a big contribution to the community,’ Gordon added.

‘We want to celebrate them and publicise their work. It’s not intended as a fundraising event, more an awareness raising event. I would like this to become an annual event but the first is always the most difficult. Hopefully it will be a successful event and will create its own momentum.’ n

Northwich Woodland Ranger, Dave Jones (right) with the Barclays Bank 'Making a Difference Day' parti

Northwich Woodland Ranger, Dave Jones (right) with the Barclays Bank 'Making a Difference Day' participants (from the left); Patrick Eaton, Barry Lea, Gary Crosby, Matt Page, Mike Higgins, Bryan Van Vuuren, Pradeep Hallikeri and team leader, Matt Hurrell - Credit: Archant

There’s more information about the Hearts of Northwich festival on the Cheshire Community Action website or by emailing

Plenty of park life

Marbury Country Park will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year and it will be a landmark year for countryside ranger Dave James too. He will chalk up 20 years at the country park in 2015 and his love for the area is as strong as ever.

‘This is a park of about 1000 acres right on the edge of the town which offers a wonderful diversity of various different habitats,’ he said. ‘There are mature woodlands and grasslands and the industrial waste tips which are now a real wildlife haven.

‘The country park is a well-established element of the park and the trees look gorgeous in the autumn and at this time of year tens of thousands of starlings perform spectacular roosting displays.

‘There are beautiful views over Budworth Mere and the wildfowl there and we have over-wintering bitterns too, as well as about 20 miles of footpaths, seven miles of which is suitable for horses.’

The paths around the country park are great for cycling too and are well used by the Wheels for All scheme.

Ian Tierney is general manager of the Warrington-based charity Cycling Projects which oversees the scheme, which also operates at other picturesque venues in Cheshire.

The charity was founded in Manchester more than 20 years ago and now gives people of all ages and with all manner of disabilities the opportunity to cycle at more than 50 locations around the country.

‘Cycling is liberating,’ Ian said. ‘People with physical or mental impairments have often never had the chance to ride a bike but we want to show parents and carers that it can make a big difference and it can be something they can all do together.

‘The adapted cycles can be very expensive – anything up to £8000 – but we want to be as inclusive as possible, and we know that money is tight, so we try to make sure the cost per person is as low as possible.’