THERE are a number of reasons why people flock to Trafford – museums, football and shopping to name but a few!

But tucked away just off leafy Dunham Road in Altrincham is a real hidden gem when it comes to attracting visitors.

For the Victorian mansion, known as Parkdale, is home to an organisation whose appeal is so far and wide, it gets more hits on its website from overseas than it does at home.

People from all over the country visit every week – and just last year an American couple planned their entire honeymoon around visiting it!

It is, of course, the Vegetarian Society – a 165-year-old charity which has always had its roots in Manchester since forming in 1847, but has been in its current home for the past 43 years.

“There are vegetarian societies all over the continent, but we’re the oldest and the biggest,” said CEO Dr Jon Green.

“We’re an educational charity and make information available so people constantly contact us asking for advice.

“We don’t preach to people, that would be counter-productive. I personally believe the world would be a better place if we didn’t eat meat – but our role is to show what it means to be vegetarian, how to eat vegetarian food and how great it is to eat as a vegetarian.”

The society’s patrons include the doyen of vegetarian cookery Rose Elliot and Paul, Stella and Mary McCartney.

It employs 30 staff – none of whom eat meat – and has an annual turnover of £1.3m. As well as receiving funding from all the usual sources such as membership and legacies, it also receives a fee for underwriting vegetarian cuisine in supermarkets – you will find the logo on 8,000 products.

According to the website – – the word ‘vegetarian’ didn’t exist pre-1847.

Today there are two million vegetarians in the UK, with the society having 12,000 members. Seventy-five per cent of those members are women and most – according to a recent survey – cite animal welfare as the main reason for abstaining from eating meat.

“Vegetarianism was a bit different back in the 1800s as people’s religious views played a part as well as concern for animal welfare, health and the environment,” said Jon.

“However, the basic principles are the same today – eating as a vegetarian is good for us and the environment and causes minimal damage to the animals we share the planet with.”

Giving advice on what to eat and how to eat it is a huge part of the society and its Cordon Vert cookery school, headed-up by principal tutor Alex Connell.

With a background in teaching, Alex joined the society nine years ago, going into schools and talking to children, but his interest in food led him to move into the kitchen.

He is now in charge of developing recipes, training professional chefs, teaching amateur cooks and promoting great veggie food for the society, as well as creating the many courses and evening master classes which are so popular with the public.

“My advice to anyone interested in becoming a vegetarian is to just give it a go,” he said. “Be imaginative about your dishes and have fun in the kitchen – there are hundreds of recipes to choose from. It is great fun being a vegetarian.”

And Jon added: “Vegetarians have a varied diet – we don’t spend our time living off gazpatio and nut roast.”