Pendle: Talk of the towns

By Ged Henderson

24 Mar 2023

Nelson Shuttle By Andy Ford

Our road trip around Lancashire’s hotspots has taken us to Pendle. We’ve spoken to business, education and local government representatives to find out the issues they and the borough are facing.

Present:

Tracy Clavell-Bate
Barnfield Construction
Louisa Mayor
Pendleside Hospice
Rose Rouse
Pendle Borough Council
James Hartley
Businesswise Solutions
Lisa O’Loughlin
Nelson and Colne College
Chris Smith
Pendle Engineering
Keiron Higginson
LED Electrical
Georgia Robson
Get Stoked
Graham Tracey
Backhouse Insurance

If anyone was unsure about what Nelson’s £25m Towns Fund deal is aiming to deliver, the title given to one of its projects makes it crystal clear.

‘Revitalising Nelson’ is designed to bring high profile and long-term vacant and under-used buildings in the former mill town back into use for residential and commercial purposes.

It sits alongside other ambitious plans aimed at reviving the Pendle town, including a £730,000 ‘This is Nelson’ arts and culture project. A £2.29m investment proposal for an Advanced Digital Skills Academy in the town has also been given the green light.

Nelson isn’t the only town in Pendle that is the focus of such attention. A long-term project to guide future regeneration into Colne, Barnoldswick and Earby over the next ten to 15 years got underway last October. Masterplans are being prepared to create a vision for each of the three towns.

Meanwhile, the £6.5m that Pendle received from round one of the government’s Levelling Up Fund will be used to boost Colne town centre. It includes plans for a heritage quarter and the redevelopment of the town’s market.

Litte wonder Pendle’s chief executive Rose Rouse says this is “an exciting time” for the borough. She adds: “When I first came here quite a few people said to me, ‘the problem with Pendle is it’s not a real place, it’s a collection of different things.

“I decided to turn that on its head and look at it in a totally different way and I actually see Pendle as a ‘charm bracelet’ with all these jewels and charms on it.

“Those charms could be its towns and villages, they could be the history and heritage, they could be things like the college and some of the other really good anchor institutions.

“Then there’s the culture, all the different people that we’ve got living here, all the exciting, slightly quirky things that actually happen here, the witches, all of that sort of stuff.

“If you look at it that way you see that lovely characterful place.” She adds: “The towns are really important jewels on that bracelet, and we’re putting a lot of focus into Nelson through the Town Deal and into Colne through the levelling up agenda.

“We’ve just been looking at masterplans for the West Craven part of the borough and we’re going to be focusing on areas like Brierfield too. We are really keen to progress on all of these fronts.”

Chris Smith is managing director of Nelson based Pendle Engineering. He sees having the name ‘Pendle’ in the titles of his businesses as a major positive.

Chris says: “We’re proud to have been in Nelson since the late 1980s, so obviously we’ve seen a lot of change in that time, but a lot of things remain the same - grit, determination, ability”.

He adds: “As an employer, we’re trying to draw people in. Pendle’s a net exporter of talent. We’ve got a hill which we talk about all the time, but we’ve got to talk about more than that to draw people to come and work within the town.”

Tracy Clavell-Bate, head of development and acquisitions at Barnfield Construction, which is based in the borough, says work is also needed to bring people back into Nelson town centre, which “has its challenges”.

She adds: “Colne seems to hold its own, it’s got very little vacancy, a good mix of independents and nationals and it just seems to have a draw. There is that pull.”

She also believes Pendle needs to shout more about itself and adds: “We should be proud about what we’ve got, what we’ve achieved and the future, because I do think the future is bright.”

Keiron Higginson is director of sales and marketing at Brierfield business LED Electrical. He believes part of the challenge facing the towns lies in “bridging the gap” between Pendle’s areas of poverty and affluence, which in some cases sit side by side.

He adds: “Nelson is a traditional town centre, whereas in Colne and Barrowford you’ve got a high street full of independent shops. We’ve got to find ways of bringing those smaller, independent businesses into Nelson.”

Rose Rouse believes Nelson can also build on the culture of its Pakistani heritage population, celebrating its identity and food. She says: “Let’s really go big on that rather than trying to make it like every other town in the country, because it isn’t. Let’s celebrate what’s special about Nelson.”

Lisa O’Loughlin, the new principal at Nelson and Colne College, says towns change through “brave decisions”, citing the Northlight development at Brierfield Mill. She adds: “You can see the ripple effect that’s starting to build.

“More of that will make those waves longer and then they may start to connect to other waves and that’s when you start to see a real change to the towns. The trick is how you develop inclusive growth.”

James Hartley, commercial director at Businesswise Solutions, which is based in Brierfield, says recruiting staff locally is a big issue. He says: “As we got bigger, and we needed more skills and more knowledge of the industry we’ve had to go further afield.”

Georgia Robson, director of Colne based marketing agency Get Stoked, also highlights skills challenges. He says: “All of our team currently live within the local area, but we rent an office in Manchester because we still want connections there.

“And if there comes a time when I can’t find a new developer or designer locally, I know I’ll probably pick up one probably within a week in Manchester.”

Graham Tracey, managing director at Backhouse Insurance, says the spirit of enterprise among small business in Pendle is “incredible” as is the community spirit that exists.

He adds: “We want to bring younger people into the business and try and hopefully change that mindset of, ‘I’m in my 20s I want to go to Manchester.”

That community spirit can be seen in the “amazing support” that Pendleside Hospice receives from its local communities. Louisa Mayor, head of income generation at the charity, says: “Even when times are really tough, we’ve got a cost-of-living crisis at the moment, people just come together.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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