Congleton gets fruity

Ap­ples and shoot­ing stars

Cheshire Life - - Inside - WORDS: Paul Macken­zie PHO­TO­GRAPHS: Kirsty Thomp­son and mem­bers of Congleton Cam­era Club

Com­mu­nity spirit in some towns is skin deep, but in Congleton it is at the core of ev­ery­thing they do. Take the re­sponse to hav­ing a few boxes of left­over ap­ples at the end of a com­mu­nity seed swap event (or, in­deed, hold­ing a com­mu­nity seed swap event in the first place). Did they com­post the ap­ples? Well, that was the first thought, but they then de­cided to make use of them.

The ap­ples were pressed into juice which was sold at the town’s Christ­mas fair and even if other towns had got that far, the chances are they would have left it there. Not in Congleton. This year they are hop­ing to col­lect 20 tonnes of ap­ples from around the town which they will press on their own ma­chin­ery to cre­ate more juice as well as cider and – new this year – cider vine­gar.

The bot­tles are now sold not just at com­mu­nity events like the Christ­mas fair (this year be­ing held on Sat­ur­day No­vem­ber 24) but at shops around the town and the com­mu­nity café.

It’s good stuff too; it must be, be­cause the ap­ple juice won the Prod­uct of the Year ti­tle in the 2016 Cheshire Life Food and Drink Awards.

Pe­ter As­ton has been in­volved from the start with the town’s sus­tain­abil­ity group which col­lects and presses the ap­ples. He said: ‘In 2009 was shown the Congleton town strat­egy. I said I thought it was quite light from an en­vi­ron­men­tal point of view and I found my­self chair­ing the Congleton Sus­tain­abil­ity Group.’

Their first mis­sion was to seek

green flag sta­tus for lo­cal schools and a few months af­ter they launched, they held that seed swap which re­sulted in ‘four or five boxes of un­re­mark­able ap­ples be­ing left be­hind’.

‘I ap­proached Ed­dis­bury Fruit Farm and they said they’d need about 200kg so we asked around and found our­selves enough ap­ples for 109 bot­tles of juice which all sold at the Christ­mas fair. The fol­low­ing year we planned for it and man­aged to 1200 bot­tles and start­ing sell­ing them through farm­ers’ mar­kets and lo­cal shops.

‘I had al­ways wanted to make the juice our­selves and when the peo­ple at Ed­dis­bury re­tired, we bought equip­ment from a com­pany that had closed in Der­byshire and be­gan to search for premises.

‘We found an old mill in a back street and fell in love with it. We moved in in April 2016 and de­cided to do ev­ery­thing on a vol­un­teer ba­sis and to use what peo­ple would do­nate. That’s when we re­alised we could do more than make juice. There was space for a café, meet­ing rooms and what you might call a com­mu­nity hub, so it all sort of came to­gether.

‘We are as far from the mod­ern, sleek cor­po­rate café as you can get, we’re more like your favourite aun­tie’s liv­ing room, and it all feels very cosy, com­fort­able and wel­com­ing.’

This month marks the se­cond an­niver­sary of The Old Sawmill Café and they now of­fer work ex­pe­ri­ence place­ments and a venue for com­mu­nity events as well as whole­some home-made

‘It’s a town where peo­ple get things done. It’s an amaz­ing place re­ally, with so much go­ing on’

food and some par­tic­u­larly fine cakes.

They have been mak­ing cider for some years now – ‘It’s flat and less harsh, or less full bod­ied de­pend­ing how you look at it, than a West Coun­try cider’ – and are now ex­plor­ing more so­phis­ti­cated tech­niques. They’ve also now ex­panded their range to in­clude cider vine­gar which can be a tasty ad­di­tion to dress­ings, mari­nades and vinai­grettes and is re­puted to have health ben­e­fits in­clud­ing re­duc­ing blood sugar lev­els and help­ing with weight loss. ‘Some of our older cus­tomers swear by it for in­flam­ma­tory dis­eases, too,’ Pe­ter added.

‘I don’t think things would have hap­pened in the same way else­where. This is a town where peo­ple get things done. They can see that things can hap­pen here and if they have ideas about do­ing things, it can be turned into ac­tion in a way that doesn’t quite seem to hap­pen in other towns. It’s an amaz­ing place re­ally, with so much go­ing on.’

One of the peo­ple be­hind many of the things go­ing on in Congleton is Jo Money, the man­ager of Congleton Com­mu­nity Projects.

The group, which is based in the Elec­tric Pic­ture House, raises funds for projects around the town and hosts fes­ti­vals, work­shops, pa­rades and all sorts of other com­mu­nity events.

One of their re­cent suc­cesses was the Congleton Play Day where the town cen­tre be­came a huge play area with fit­ness groups, dance groups, board games, den build­ing, arts ac­tiv­i­ties and more. They also sup­ported the new two week Her­itage and An­tiques Fes­ti­val which closed on Septem­ber 23rd.

Jo said: ‘We are com­mu­nity based and love get­ting the com­mu­nity in­volved. I know the town has al­ways been com­mu­nity ori­ented. Peo­ple have of­ten said that they like to come here be­cause of all the things that are go­ing on.

‘My events are to serve Congleton and I love it, I love do­ing events and pa­rades and fes­ti­vals. The more you can of­fer peo­ple, the hap­pier they are and the more they are en­cour­aged to do things.

‘There is a tremen­dous sense of com­mu­nity here; there are more than 200 vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions in the town which we help to pro­mote and we have the com­mu­nity café, the sus­tain­abil­ity group, a con­tem­po­rary arts cen­tre, the Dane­side The­atre. It’s a very busy, ac­tive town.’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.