I’m a little early and Stephen is finishing off a customer’s hair when I arrive. “You’re not going to get it much lighter with bleach,” he says, “you might as well leave it like that.”
Hairdresser Stephen Chandler is secretary of Moston Lane Traders Association and I’ve asked him to take me on a tour of the high street. Before we go, and while I’m finishing off my tea, I ask him to start at the beginning.
“You were born in Moston?”
“Well, Blackley really,” he says, “now they’ve changed the boundaries.”
Stephen is the oldest of three brothers and went to Lilly Lane Primary School. “Which is only just over there,” he says, arm outstretched. “And then Moston Brook where Central Park and the Police Headquarters are now.”
Back then Stephen blagged his way onto a YOP scheme (Youth Opportunities Programme) making out he’d always wanted to be a hairdresser. He ended up sweeping hair off a salon floor on Deansgate in town.
“I didn’t care because I used to make about £15 a week in tips on top of my wages,” he said. “I never looked back. I loved it.”
After learning the trade in Manchester’s Lewis’s store Stephen’s first salon was in Bredbury before setting up Chandlers Hairdressing on Moston Lane.
“The lane was absolutely buzzing then,” he recalls. “It’s still busy now, but not as busy, because we’ve lost houses and had the recession.
“I know people moan about Moston having changed but I don’t see that as a bad thing. I’m reluctant to say it’s racist because I don’t think people round here are bigoted at all – there’s always the odd one wherever you go – but generally the community are warm and accepting. I know that because I’m gay and I’ve never had a problem.”
“Tell me about your involvement with the LRG (Local Reference Group) for Forever Manchester. I guess you were approached because of your work with the local traders.”
“And, I suppose, because I’m Moston born and bred.”
“What do you make of it?”
“I enjoy it,” he says. “I enjoy being involved in making grants to local groups. Some ask for small amounts of money that you know will make a big difference – spades for a gardening project, for instance – and I just like to be able to say yes.”
“That must feel good, knowing that the money often helps the most vulnerable.”
“It does. It really does. If it improves the area, or the lives of local people, then I’m quite happy.”
Tea finished, we set off down the high street as Stephen tells me why the Traders Association was set up two years ago.
“We represent about 140 businesses – this is Dave’s print shop, he’s our chairman – and our aim is to improve Moston Lane for the traders. If anyone has a problem we will take it to, say, the Council on their behalf.”
There are tailors and nurseries, barbers and mini-markets, takeaways and beauty shops. “Look at this,” declares Stephen proudly, “what high street nowadays has two banks!”
We wander past the impressive Simpson Memorial Hall where Stephen mucks in with the NMAODs, The North Manchester Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.
“Moston Lane is an asset to Moston just as much as the local schools, Boggart Hole Clough or Central Park,” he says.
“So you feel positive for the future of this place?” I ask.
“I’ve always been positive. This lane will always be here. It was here when I was a kid and it will be here when I’m gone. The shops will just be different.”