JLife speaks to Rob Grant and Alex Moss, founders of new online hub Prestwichvillage.com about the North Manchester suburb that has rallied together during the coronavirus pandemic.
They say it ‘takes a village’ and it has taken a collective effort from residents and local businesses alike to promote what is great and good about Prestwich village, especially amid a global pandemic. Fellow residents and friends Rob Grant and Alex Moss used their unexpected downtime to establish Prestwichvillage.com and its accompanying Facebook group has helped promote local businesses start the onerous task of opening back up safely to trade once more. “When lockdown does eventually end…we will look back on this truly horrible time and notice that in terms local economies, it was maybe one of the best things that’s happened.” Says Alex, local business owner and Prestwich champion.
Both with professional marketing backgrounds and firm ties to the area, Rob and Alex were uniquely placed to head up the scheme. With Alex securing the domain name in the hopes of creating something for the local area at some point in the future, after a chat with Rob who seemed keen to create a home for Prestwich eateries and amenities online, Prestwichvillage.com went live this year.
The onset of COVID-19 was an uncertain time for small business owners, the new social distancing rules meant that most shops were tasked with revamping their services quickly, with many turning to deliveries and collection to help them keep afloat. For business owners changing their operations on a near daily basis, the Prestwich Village website and Facebook page became a powerful tool to help residents keep abreast of changing product services and availabilities.
Rob, an experienced business consultant and marketing director for Radcliffe Market, believes a global pandemic has been a real wake-up call for the local business community: “We had to ask ourselves as a community how do we create a voice which can have some influence in what happens to Prestwich. It is a wonderful place and there is so much potential, and with the council regeneration there’s an opportunity for everyone to help create an amazing place to live and to trade. Maybe the time is right for the village to be at the heart of what we do now.”
Both Rob and Alex hope that when everything eventually returns to ‘normal’, the website will continue to entice visitors and entrepreneurs to see the potential of the area, drawing people away from more high-profile suburbs and the city centre. Prestwich born and bred and King David alum Alex moved his marketing company Firecask from Deansgate to Prestwich recently and confirms it has paid dividends: “Commutes were reduced as a result of the move and it made flexibility to work from home easier, even before the coronavirus. For a marketing firm we were operating just as efficiently.”
Over 50 businesses have joined Prestwichvillage.com since it went live, starting from a core group of businesses who swiftly got behind the idea. The Facebook group became a medium for discussion and best practice, and Rob is keen to emphasise that the site’s success has been born out of everyone’s desire to create a culture and resident-led identity around Prestwich, such the ‘Welcome Back’ promotion JLife readers may have noticed in the village already.
Continued engagement is key, says Rob: “What we would really like is for local people to shout about their local services and to use the hashtag #VocalforLocal to champion a local business they really love and to and continue to support them. We’d love for people to buy locally, but we know that isn’t always possible, so what they can do is like and share posts about the businesses that need their support. Even if only half the people in Prestwich did that, it would be so beneficial to the businesses nearby.
“Businesses can go on and register and upload their details at any time and residents or visitors to Prestwich can search for local services,. Crucially it is not full of businesses who have paid to be a the top of the page, it’s just about local businesses promoting themselves.”
So what have these two entrepreneurs learned during this difficult time for business? “It goes to show how fickle we are as an economy globally,” offers Alex, “that we had to shut down initially for a month and all hell broke loose. I am hoping that this situation will make us all sympathetic to the reality that business owners and employees alike are often living hand to mouth.”
And for Rob? “Local businesses and communities have really got a massive opportunity to create some new spaces. I am hoping that the council will fulfil the promise they made in terms of being more flexible with the outside space, as well as the regeneration of the village itself so that people can enjoy what this village has to offer, where it’s right by the tram stop, right by the motorway and right by a high street.
“People’s buying behavior has changed, and businesses that made the leap into deliveries or takeaways may always do that now, for example. They have tried lots of new ways of trading during a time when they’ve probably been at their lowest, so it has opened people’s eyes to what they can do better or change.”
To discover and support local Prestwich businesses, visit Prestwichvillage.com, follow its Facebook page to find all the latest goings-on and use the hashtag #VocalforLocal.