THE £11 million Warrington Market in the heart of the town opened its doors on Monday on a momentous day.

After years in the making, the Covid-19 secure site welcomed residents from across the borough.

The purpose-built facility is the latest addition to the borough council’s £142.5 million Time Square town centre regeneration scheme.

It features a mezzanine floor, escalators, a spacious food court and an outdoor terrace.

Council leader Cllr Russ Bowden said he was ‘absolutely elated’ after the highly-anticipated site opened.

“It’s been an eight-year project and I pay tribute to former leader, Cllr Terry O’Neill, who had this vision for Time Square and regenerating our town centre,” he said.

“It’s been a long journey, sometimes difficult.

“We’ve had a big story with the market, demolishing the old market, moving into a temporary market and now into here.

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Russ Bowden

“And you can just see it, it’s a state of the art, contemporary market – it has a real big town feel about it.

“I’m absolutely convinced that it will be a big hit for Warrington and will draw people from miles around.”

Cllr Bowden also moved to reassure residents that the building is safe.

The Labour politician said: “What we have done here is work really hard to make sure it is Covid secure.

“We want customers to come here and feel safe with the arrangements that are in place and we’ve seen that with a one-way entry and exit system, and you’ve seen it with the social distancing measures here in the food court.

“I can say with confidence that it is safe for residents to come here.

“Markets aren’t just about the tradition and the kind of draw for older clients and customers – it’s making it relevant to modern society, it’s making it attractive to young people and giving them something that they will want to come to the market for.

“It’s not just about the food, we’ve also got some traditional traders but also a lot of contemporary things as well, for example comics and magazines, we’ve got a hairdressers in here and a tattooist.

“There’s a lot here in Warrington Market that is there as an offer for generations really.”

Warrington Guardian:

Warrington Market

Meanwhile, the opening day brought ‘mixed emotions’ for market operations manager Paul Blaney.

He said: “To finally get here now, it is a lot of relief.

“I feel quite emotional about it – to finally be in the building that I’ve seen little sketches of that me and my previous manager and boss were putting together a long time ago.

“This will just grow, there is a lot of interest.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people around Warrington, I’m a Warrington lad myself and there’s a lot of excitement for this market.”

He also said he expects managing the Covid-19 scenario and, in particular, social distancing to be the biggest challenge for the market over the coming months.

“We have got a lot of safety measures in place,” he said.

“We have got staff on doors managing numbers – I think it’s important to maintain that.

“That is the biggest challenge I think for the moment, without that I feel undoubtedly that this place would be packed out.

“We had 26,000 people a week through the temporary market when we opened that and I expect the same level of numbers once we get back to some normality.”

Warrington Guardian:

Market operations manager Paul Blaney

Trader Christina Houghton owns Window Dreams, which provides home furnishings such as curtains and blinds.

After starting as a market Saturday girl at the age of 14, Monday was a proud day for her.

The 51-year-old said: “It’s really busy so I’m very excited, it’s nice to see some of the faces coming back.

“All the stalls look amazing and I just want to get back to work. I saw all the plans for the market and I knew the market was going to be an upmarket market.

“I am very happy and excited today.

“The market traders are made of tough stuff, it’s not going to be easy but if anybody is going to give it a go, it is going to be these market traders.

“Everybody – the council and the traders – have invested so much money that we are going to give it our best shot.

“I am positive that my customers will come back but we have to stick to the rules, we have got to stay safe, we don’t want a second spike.

“So as long as you’ve got your hand sanitiser, your masks, your screens and stick to the rules, we’ve got to get on with our lives.”

Ladies fashion shop Dressing Room owner Bobby Sandher said a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes prior to the big day.

But he acknowledged that people are ‘still a bit wary’ of venturing out.

He said: “We have got a pretty good feel for it today, so fingers crossed that people do come here.

“I don’t think it’s going to be back to normal overnight, definitely not, I think it will take a long, long time to get back to where we were, or nearly where we were, but we have got to keep going.”

As well as selling coffee, Two Brothers Coffee is moving its roasting operations from its Altrincham site to Warrington Market.

Sean Lyall, operations manager, highlighted the need to adjust to the ‘new normal’.

He added: “We have got all our food covered from the general public, we have to wear face masks and our counter is just over a metre wide, so that separates us from the general public.

“Even once we can go back to the old normal it is about changing people’s perceptions and getting confidence back for consumers to come out and start shopping again.”

Warrington Market is being tipped to thrive through the ‘economic storm’ that the country is facing.

Steve Park, the council’s director of growth, is very optimistic about what the future holds for the new site which opened on Monday.

He said: “This is a Covid-safe environment and while we are beginning to come out of lockdown, we are stepping out – we are not running out.

“And the market is certainly acutely aware of the need to present a very safe environment.

Warrington Guardian:

Steve Park

“We are facing an economic recession and actually that’s where markets start to thrive because this is where you can start to get some bargains from traders that you know well and you can trust the source of your produce.

“I have no concerns at all that the market will be a thriving success through the economic storm that we are in – and we’re likely to endure for at least another 12 months.”

Council chief executive Steven Broomhead says the market opened on Monday ‘against all the odds’ amid Covid-19 and a troubled economy.

He said: “We’ve tried to look at different models of markets around the country and bring the best from each of those markets here in Warrington. It is a really great day.

“Certainly, for the next few weeks people are going to be cautious, you could see on Super Saturday that people are cautious, particularly elderly people.

“But with a place like this with Covid secure arrangements, it should entice people to come out and come out and shop.”

And Mr Broomhead is confident the market will attract people from outside of Warrington.

He added: “Altrincham Market was really run-down and it was transformed by some visionary work there, a different offer inside the market, and in many ways we’ve done similar to what Altrincham have done.

“We are hoping it will get noticed and people will come here.”

Safety at the new Warrington Market is of paramount importance to help avoid a second spike of coronavirus cases.

Trader Gary Jaques, who runs the So Many Lovely Things and Belvedere Collections shops, reflected on a busy period to get the market prepared for the arrival of customers.

He said: “It has been non-stop for the past four weeks to get it ready for today.

“It has been very challenging.

“But everybody has worked together and pulled together and it has made us more of a unique team.

“I think the safety restrictions are 100 per cent necessary, they do restrict you but we have to do what is needed to keep safe.

“We don’t know how long this is going to be with us, it could be another year or so, so we need to get it right from the off.

“Safety is paramount for everybody, we don’t want another spike or anything like that.”

John Cross and sister Sue, who run butchers John Cross & Sons, were pleased to take up space in their new home at the start of the week.

But John did acknowledge the difficulties posed by Covid-19.

Warrington Guardian:
John Cross

He said: “As much as the temporary market was a very good facility, we wanted a permanent home.

“It has been a long time coming but here we are now.

“The world is a different place for everyone at the moment, we have all got to be aware of that which I think people are.

“It’s just unfortunate to be opening while we are still in a pandemic but I think we will get through it.

“It’s adversity but we have sort of dealt with it the best we can as a nation, you have got to be positive about things.”

Jean Ashton, who usually visits the market every week, was left very impressed with the new building.

Warrington Guardian:

Jean Ashton

She said: “I am really glad it is back, I’ve missed it terribly.

“It’s marvellous, I love it.”

Mark Moran also visited the site on Monday.

Warrington Guardian:

Mark Moran

He said: “From what I’ve just seen, I think it’s great.

“The other thing for me is it flows with everything else, so coming in from the Cultural Quarter to here.

“I just hope the rest of Bridge Street gets the facelift it needs now.”