Kirkham: Going to market
The old market town of Kirkham is going back to the future.
Its £10m regeneration masterplan is being described as a “once in a generation” opportunity to transform its fortunes.
Kirkham can trace its origins back to Roman times. Once a booming textile town, it made the sailcloth for the Royal Navy that ensured Britannia could rule the waves.
But with the mills long gone and its high street facing increasing economic challenges, in common with many of our market towns, Kirkham’s fortunes dipped.
All the banks closed; shop units and landmark historic buildings stood empty. Something needed to change. That change is now in the air, with an ambitious regeneration scheme that will see Kirkham look to return to its roots as rural Fylde’s vibrant market town.
The four-year Kirkham Futures masterplan will be funded through various streams secured by Fylde Council’s regeneration team.
Kirkham has been awarded £6.3m from the Government’s Future High Street Fund (FHSF) – the only town in Lancashire to win a piece of the pot.
This followed hot-on-the-heels of the £3.6m secured through Kirkham’s successful bid to become one of Historic England’s High Streets Heritage Action Zones (HS HAZ).
With the money, historic buildings will be bought and transformed – with a range of innovative new uses planned.
Major improvements will be made to the public realm and opportunities created to help existing businesses bounce back and thrive post-pandemic but encourage new ones to open.
There is also hope that Lancashire County Council will add a substantial sum in the region of £4.6m to the regeneration cash pot.
Andrew Chatterjee, Fylde Council’s Kirkham Futures programme manager, says: “There is a lot going on. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Kirkham.
“Kirkham is a very old town, one of those places that’s been neglected over the years.
“Some of the buildings on the high street are grand Grade II listed properties full of history and character. The idea is to restore all that and use the Future High Street money to buy some of the empty buildings. We have a full regeneration plan. We want to create a vibrant market town.”
That plan includes spending more than £1.5m on Market Square, creating a vibrant area with a public events space. “We’re really looking at Kirkham going back to its roots as a market town,” Andrew explains.
“Places like Kirkham are fighting against bigger towns, so they have got to give people something different. For us it is all about placemaking, its heritage and culture, that’s the offer.”
The masterplan includes developing a new ‘Heritage and Eco Skills Centre’ in the former Hillside restaurant, a listed Georgian building, and the creation of an arts centre and community cinema in the former TSB bank. Both have stood empty for some time.
The plan is also to purchase the Kirkgate Centre allowing for the development of key empty shop units and the creation of new affordable town centre housing
The restoration and improvement of traditional shop fronts and homes within Kirkham’s Conservation Area is another major initiative.
Shopkeepers and landlords are being urged to sign up to the scheme to restore their properties to their former historic glory, with grants of up to 90 per cent available.
More than 35 property owners in Kirkham’s central Conservation Area have already signed up, with cash available to reinstate historic features, including timber sash windows, slate roofs, timber shop fronts, brickwork pointing and guttering.
There is also the opportunity to create residential use in the upper floors. The aim is to use local builders and suppliers.
Andrew says: “It will really change the look of the place and will probably have the most impact in terms of what people will see, giving a pre-First World War feel.”
Elaine Silverwood is the new mayor of Fylde. Her book and cafe business, based in the town centre, is celebrating its 21st anniversary. She also runs an events business.
Elaine, who witnessed the impact of the last recession on the town, with shops closing, says: “There’s a good new vibe in Kirkham developing.
“It is just so exciting, being able to transform our town, but also have the core of it, the history of it.
“This is a significant amount of money that can make such a difference Kirkham. It can make a generational difference if we get it right. That’s the crucial part.”
She points to the transformation of Hebden Bridge on the other side of the Pennines and its journey to becoming a much-visited destination market town.
One of Kirkham’s challenges in her eyes is the loss of its bank branches. “The closures had a really negative effect on footfall,” she says: “Kirkham is a service centre, it needs to have the services. The banks abandoned us.”
Elaine would like to see them return through the creation of a bank hub. It’s a new form of banking which sees a branch in a community shared by the big high street banks. “It’s on my wish list,” she says.
New businesses are being attracted. Julie Hardy is co-owner of Jusa Homes estate agents, which opened on Poulton Street in April.
She says: “We thought it was really nice to open in Kirkham and be part of the town centre regeneration scheme right from the start. The local community has welcomed us with open arms.”
Heidi Hopkinson is co-owner of a nearby gift shop and chairs Kirkham Business Group. She says: ““What this government funding does, as well as pay for the many wonderful regeneration projects now underway, is act as a real catalyst for more investment.
“New businesses have already opened on the high street, and there are many more to come which will help not only build on our retail offer but also help create a popular and more diverse night-time economy. There is a real renewed positivity.”
While the focus of the government cash is on town centre regeneration, on the edge of town a multi-million-pound investment programme is looking to enter its next stage.
Plans have been submitted for a new stand and indoor training dome at Mill Farm Sports Village in Wesham – the final piece of football club AFC Fylde’s ground development.
The indoor dome will feature a 3G pitch for use by the club and the wider community and will be the largest indoor facility of its kind in Lancashire.
It is the latest stage in the masterplan for Mill Farm created by leading architecture, design and masterplanning practice Frank Whittle Partnership (FWP).
To assist in the funding of the latest phase of the stadium development, the club is also seeking outline planning permission for up to 100 new houses on the site.
Mill Farm is already home to a 290-capacity sports bar, a 70-seater Italian restaurant with an ‘al fresco’ roof terrace, a café, large conference and event facilities and a five-star hotel.
An Aldi supermarket also sits on the site, along with a 24-hour petrol station integrating a convenience store, and a host of well-known fast-food outlets. These developments also helped to fund the stadium and the sports village’s community facilities.
FWP managing partner David Robinson says: “Mill Farm’s development as a sports village has been made possible by associated enabling projects, including several established and highly-successful, commercial and industrial developments on the site which have already brought over 200 permanent and 400 temporary jobs to the area.”
Mill Farm is part of local businessman David Haythornthwaite’s Tangerine Holdings group. He believes it has played its part in attracting people into the area.
And he is optimistic about Kirkham’s future. He says: “The money the town has received is really going to help the regeneration. Kirkham is a beautiful old mill town with some lovely buildings that are going to be restored, which is great.”
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